The European Football Association will hold talks with the UK government on Monday to move the Champions League final to London this month as travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic are causing domestic fans of the finalists – Premier League rivals Manchester City and Chelsea – made it almost impossible – to take part in the planned location in Istanbul.
The final, scheduled for May 29 at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, is the biggest day on the European club football calendar. Like the Super Bowl and the Wimbledon Final, the Champions League Final is one of the tent pole events in global sport every year.
Questions about where the game should take place have grown since Turkey announced a lockdown late last month. They strengthened on Friday, days after City and Chelsea took their places in the finals, when the UK government announced that Turkey was among the countries to which the British should avoid all but essential travel.
English Football Association officials have started talks with European governing body UEFA about relocating the game. They will be there on Monday when UEFA sets out their requirements for a 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 option will be considered, most likely Porto, Portugal.
UEFA’s demands are likely to pose a dilemma for the UK government, which must balance the popular appeal of bringing a major sporting event with two English teams to the country against the continuing need for public health to control the spread of the virus.
Among other things, UEFA is expected to waive quarantine requirements so that its staff, international broadcasters, sponsors, suppliers and officials can adjust their plans and participate in the game.
UEFA also tries to provide guarantees for spectators. Fans will be able to attend football matches in England later this month, but that number is capped at 10,000 – a number well below the 25,000 fans Istanbul claims can accommodate. The UK government relaxed that rule by saying 20,000 can play in the FA Cup final on May 17th at Wembley Stadium in London. UEFA will require similar accommodation.
English officials have told UEFA that the game can be played at Wembley despite the fact that the stadium is booked for the newcomer playoffs of the lower leagues this week. These games are moved to new locations or played on different dates. Two Premier League clubs have turned to UEFA to host the Champions League final in their stadiums. However, UEFA is expected to insist that if the game is to be moved to England it must be played at Wembley, a neutral venue known to both clubs and one that meets UEFA’s requirements for hosting major matches.
The decision would mean pulling the game out of Istanbul for the second year in a row. Last year’s crucial Champions League games – the tournament was postponed on the eve of the quarter-finals last spring to contain the spread of the virus – were played in what is known as a bubble environment in Lisbon. They were only moved after Turkish officials agreed to give up their coveted role of hosting the final in exchange for promising Istanbul to host the final this year.
Officials in Portugal have told UEFA they can also start this year’s final at short notice, possibly in Porto, after the UK government added Portugal on Friday to a list of countries its citizens could travel to without being quarantined on their return to be asked.
May 9, 2021, 11:31 a.m. ET
Turkey recently launched a new lockdown as the virus has risen and the country has been placed on the Red List, a group of countries and areas that travel from the UK is actively discouraged. Turkey, a popular destination for British tourists, announced it would lift the ban on May 17, 12 days before the Champions League final, but government officials warned football fans to stay home.
“First and foremost, it means fans shouldn’t travel to Turkey for the Champions League,” UK lawmaker Grant Shapps said at a press conference after announcing the new rules for travel in and outside the UK .
To complicate matters is a 10-day quarantine request for people returning to the UK from Red List countries after their release. That would mean that more than a dozen players on both teams may be excluded from preparations for the European Championship, the four-year football championship on the continent that starts on June 11th.
“We’re very open to where the final is going, but ultimately it’s a decision for UEFA,” said Shapps, adding: “Given that there are two English clubs in this final, we’re looking forward to what they have to say. “
UEFA has sympathy for Turkey, which could now lose the final for the second time in a row. One way to appease Turkish officials is to offer to play the 2023 final in Istanbul on the occasion of the 100th birthday of the Turkish Republic.
Manchester City and Chelsea would have brought large tour groups and potentially thousands of fans to Turkey for the game, in addition to the hundreds of journalists and others who normally attend the final. Your supporters from outside the UK who may have been allowed to attend the game in Turkey will most likely not be included in the relaxed travel restrictions if the game is played in England.
Manchester City, on their way to claim their third Premier League title in four years this weekend, took their first place in the final on Tuesday when they saw Paris St-Germain, a finalist in Lisbon last summer , eliminated.
Chelsea, who won the Champions League in 2012, earned their place a day later by ousting Spaniard Real Madrid.
City and Chelsea met in a league game in Manchester on Saturday, with Chelsea delaying City’s national championship celebrations with a 2-1 win.