Manchester City versus Chelsea in the Champions League final on May 29 is unlikely to be staged at Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium.
The final was originally scheduled to be played in Turkey’s largest city, but the Eurasian nation is still in the midst of a national lockdown, with a recent surge in coronavirus cases. It is currently a ‘red list’ country, meaning travel is not permitted for leisure purposes.
The UK government remains keen to help facilitate hosting the all-English final at Wembley for safety reasons, as well as being able to facilitate Manchester City and Chelsea fans attending.
While the UK could easily accommodate supporters from City and Chelsea at the national stadium, the sticking point is likely to be granting quarantine exemptions to the thousands of UEFA delegates and sponsors coming in from all over the world, with adherence to the public health protocols still being the main priority.
There is a sense that UEFA feels it has an obligation to the UK after Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed it so strongly over the European Super League debacle.
The UK government met virtually with UEFA and the FA on Monday to discuss the situation, and a final decision is expected to be made by Tuesday. After Monday’s talks, the government still has concerns about waiving quarantine rules for visiting broadcasters and sponsors.
UEFA is still hopeful that the issues can be resolved and Portugal is the backup option if the possibility of staging the final at Wembley falls through.
Portugal is considered a feasible alternative to host the final because it has recently been added to the British government’s ‘green list’ for foreign travel, meaning travellers can visit from May 17 without having to self-isolate when they return.
That would enable Manchester City and Chelsea fans to travel, unlike with Turkey, and it appears likely that the final will be staged in Portugal for the second time in two seasons – with Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz having been the venue when Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain in last year’s showpiece.
The Turkish Football Federation has invested a lot to make the final happen safely, including expanding the media area and ensuring everything is Covid-secure.
Sources in Turkey have told Sky Sports News they would naturally be disappointed if the final did not go ahead in Istanbul, adding UEFA cannot take the final away from the country without their agreement – which should therefore include a counter offer, such as another date in future years. They are also sad to be placed on the UK “red list”, having made the effort in good faith.
It is understood they will be reimbursed if the final is taken away from them, and there is talk that Turkey could instead host a final in 2023 – which would be symbolic because it’s the 100th year of Turkey’s republic. It is also likely they will have full capacity then and be worth more financially.
The Press Association are reporting that UEFA is understood to have ruled out any venue within the UK except for Wembley, and is seeking guarantees of quarantine-free entry to the country for its delegates, along with media, sponsors and other VIPs.
Relations between the two are strong after UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin recognised the key role played by the Government in putting pressure on the clubs who threatened to form a breakaway European Super League.
From May 17, outdoor sports venues in England are due to be allowed up to 10,000 fans or 25 per cent capacity, whichever figure is lower. However, 20,000 have already been earmarked for the Champions League final, which would mean it would need to be run as a pilot event.
The Sky Bet Championship play-off final is currently due to take place on Saturday, May 29 at Wembley Stadium, but the EFL says it is “willing to listen to moving the play-offs” to an alternative date.
However, with the European Championships due to get underway on June 11, it would have to be played as soon as possible after the Champions League final.
EFL fans and clubs may also need to be compensated for tickets and travel already booked, and there would also likely be discussions as to whether a greater number of fans could attend if the Champions League final allows 20,000 spectators in.