The UEFA Champions League final will go ahead in Istanbul, Turkey, say UEFA despite two English clubs, Manchester City and Chelsea, reaching the showpiece event on May 29.
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UPDATE: However, this stance has now been complicated as the UK government has just added Turkey to its ‘red list’ due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases, as travel is banned from the UK to Turkey.
That means fans will no longer be allowed to travel to watch the game, plus there will be complications about players and coaches who may not be exempt from quarantine procedures. This latest development, just 21 days before the final is due to take place, will no doubt force UEFA to rethink the host city for this season.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said this on the UEFA Champions League final: “Fans should not travel to Turkey. The FA are in discussions with UEFA already on this. We are very open to hosting the final, but it is ultimately a decision for UEFA.”
There have been calls from many fans and pundits to switch the venue from Istanbul to England, with Wembley Stadium and now Villa Park suggested as more sensible options for the final as the COVID-19 pandemic complicates travel, how many fans can attend and many other factors.
However, European soccer’s governing body have insisted that the final will go ahead, as planned, in Istanbul which was due to host the final last season before it was switched to Lisbon due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The UEFA Champions League final will take place in Istanbul on 29 May with a limited number of spectators and we are assured the temporary lockdown which is in force until 17 May should not have any impact on the match,” UEFA said in a statement.
“UEFA continues to work closely with the Turkish Football Federation and the local and national authorities to stage the match safely. Detailed information regarding the capacity for the match, travel and ticketing details will be communicated publicly by the end of the week.”
Why are there calls to move the final?
With the coronavirus pandemic leading to restrictions on travel for fans of both Chelsea and Manchester City, plus a recent lockdown in the sprawling Turkish city, there are expected to be 25,000 fans at the Ataturk Stadium and just 4,000 tickets will be given to both English clubs for their fans.
If the final was held at either Wembley of Villa Park, it is believed that UK government restrictions could be eased to allow a similar number, if not more fans, to attend.
Our partners in the UK at Sky Sports say that Villa Park has put itself forward as a last-minute solution and its location in Birmingham is smack bang in the middle of Manchester and London, so it would be the perfect neutral venue.
That said, this is about more than just making it easy for fans of Chelsea and Manchester City, plus the teams, to travel to the final. UEFA is the governing body of European soccer and has the best interests of European soccer, as a whole, at its core.
Over 12,500 locals are expected to be in attendance for the final in Istanbul and those fans will witness two superb teams going at it for the biggest prize in European club soccer. That will be epic to see in person and you would be taking that experience away from people in Turkey who have been looking forward to this for a long, long time.
Does it make sense for two English teams to travel to Istanbul during a pandemic to play a 90-minute game? No, not really. And given the latest UK government restrictions, it will be tough for UEFA to justify staging the game in Turkey.
But there are so many other factors which come into play here and Istanbul will argue it deserves to be the host city and having the eyes of the world on it will benefit it financially and beyond.