European football governing body will hold talks with the UK government on the transfer of this month’s Champions League final to London on Monday, as travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus have made it nearly impossible for domestic fans runners-up – Premier League rivals Manchester City and Chelsea – to attend the match at their planned venue in Istanbul.
The final, currently scheduled for the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul on May 29, is the biggest day on the European club football calendar and, like the Super Bowl and the Wimbledon final, one of the flagship events in world sport. every year.
Questions about the venue have grown since Turkey announced a lockdown late last month. They intensified on Friday, days after City and Chelsea clinched their places in the final, when the British government announced Turkey was among the countries the British should avoid all travel to except essential travel.
English Football Association officials have already started discussions with the EU governing body, UEFA, on relocating the game, and will be present at Monday’s meeting, when UEFA sets out its demands for the game. move. A decision will most likely be announced within 48 hours.
If an agreement cannot be reached to move the final to London, a backup choice will be considered, most likely in Porto, Portugal.
UEFA’s demands are likely to present a dilemma for the UK government, which will need to balance the popular appeal of hosting a major sporting event featuring two English teams in the country and the current public health need to control the virus.
Among its demands, UEFA is expected to ask Great Britain to drop quarantine requirements so that its staff, international broadcasters, sponsors, suppliers and officials can adjust their plans and attend the game.
UEFA is also looking for guarantees on spectators. Fans will start attending football matches in England later this month, but that number is capped at 10,000, a number well below the 25,000 fans Istanbul had said it could accommodate. The British government has relaxed this rule by saying that 20,000 people can attend the FA Cup final on May 17th at Wembley Stadium in London. UEFA will require similar accommodation.
England officials have already told UEFA that the game can be played at Wembley, although the stadium is already booked to host a promotional playoff for the lower leagues that week. These matches will be moved to new venues or played on different dates. Two Premier League clubs have contacted UEFA to host the Champions League final in their stadiums, but UEFA should insist that if the game is to be moved to England it will have to be played at Wembley, a neutral place familiar to both clubs and one that meets UEFA’s requirements for hosting big matches.
The move would mean withdrawing the match from Istanbul for the second year in a row. Last year’s decisive Champions League matches – the tournament was postponed to the eve of the quarter-finals last spring due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic – took place in a so-called bubble environment. Lisbon. They were only moved after Turkish officials agreed to relinquish their coveted role as host of the final in exchange for a promise that Istanbul will host the final this year.
Portuguese officials told UEFA they could also host this year’s final at short notice, possibly in Porto, after the British government on Friday included Portugal in a list of countries in which its citizens could. surrender without having to quarantine themselves upon their return.
Turkey recently entered a new lockdown amid an increase in cases of the virus and was placed on the Red List, a group of countries for which travel from Britain is actively discouraged. Turkey, a popular destination for British tourists, had said it would lift its lockdown on May 17, 12 days before the Champions League final, but government officials had warned football fans to stay home.
“First of all, it means that when it comes to the Champions League, fans shouldn’t be going to Turkey,” Grant Schapps, the UK transport lawmaker, said at a press conference after announcing the new regulations for travel within and outside Britain.
Making matters more complicated is a 10-day quarantine requirement for people returning to Britain after being allowed to travel from Red List countries. That would mean more than a dozen players from both teams could be excluded from preparations for the European Championship, the quadrennial continental soccer championship, which begins on June 11.
“We are very open to the organization of the final, but it is ultimately a decision for UEFA,” said Schapps, adding: “Since there are two English clubs in this final, we are waiting with looking forward to what they have to say. “
For UEFA, there is sympathy for Turkey, who now risk losing the final for the second year in a row. One option being considered to appease Turkish officials is a bid for the final to be played in Istanbul in 2023, which will coincide with the centenary of the Turkish Republic.
Manchester City and Chelsea are said to have brought big traveling parties and potentially thousands of fans to Turkey for the game, in addition to the hundreds of journalists and others who normally attend the final. Their supporters outside of Great Britain – who might have been allowed to watch the game in Turkey – are unlikely to be included in the relaxed travel restrictions if the game is played in England.
Manchester City, on course to clinch their third Premier League title in four years this weekend, took their first place in the final on Tuesday, eliminating Paris Saint-Germain, finalists last summer in Lisbon.
Chelsea, who won the Champions League in 2012, earned their place a day later by ousting Spain’s Real Madrid.
In a quirk of the Premier League schedule, City and Chelsea met in a league game on Saturday in Manchester, with Chelsea delaying City’s domestic league celebrations with a 2-1 victory.