The surge of COVID cases across Turkey put the country on Britain’s travel red list. UEFA now has a big problem: could the Champions League final be moved from Istanbul for the second year running?
The European Football Association was taken by surprise. On Friday, UEFA was supposed to confirm the last details regarding the final on 29 May. The biggest club football event of the European season was scheduled to take place at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul, with both finalists, Chelsea and Manchester City, expecting to get at least 4,000 tickets each for their traveling fans.
But Turkey is in full lockdown until 17 May at the earliest, as the infection rates remain high. More than 20,000 COVID cases are confirmed every day. At the beginning of the week, UEFA’s position was firm, insisting that the final would go ahead as planned. But on Friday, as Turkey was put on the travel red list by the United Kingdom, the whole situation had to be reanalyzed.
Players are asking for a travel exception
According to the law currently in place, UK residents who are traveling to a country in the red zone need to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel that is approved by the government. As the European Championship kicks off on 11 June, many of the players would find it impossible to compete for their national teams if they are not allowed a travel exception. All the participating countries will hold training camps and sustain friendlies to get in shape ahead of Euro. Chelsea and Man City players will thus be out of the running if they need to stay in a hotel room for 10 days starting May 30.
Grant Shapps, the English transport secretary, advised fans not to travel to Turkey, also suggesting that playing the final on home soil would be a much better option. England would support the idea of fans attending if the game took place in Britain.
“Ultimately it’s the decision of UEFA. We have a successful track record of matches with spectators,” Shapps said. “I’ve spoken to the sports minister, we’re very open to it and in the end, it’s a decision for UEFA but given it’s two English clubs in the final we’re waiting to hear what they have to say.”
Where could the final be played instead?
Istanbul was also given the hosting of the final last year, but UEFA reconsidered based on the pandemic context. The format of the Champions League was changed last summer, with a ‘final eight’ tournament in Lisbon, where the quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final all took place. This year, Istanbul could be again left without the final because of the pandemic.
With Wembley hosting the Football League promotion playoff on 29 and 30 May, Hampden Park in Glasgow is a possible venue for the final, according to The Guardian. Aston Villa also offered its stadium in Birmingham in case it is needed. A second consecutive trip to Portugal for the final is not excluded either, as the country is on England’s green list for travel. This would mean no quarantine for the players or the fans upon their return. Contacted by The Guardian to comment UEFA said they “need a bit of time to reflect on the topic” before a definitive answer is put forward.