BEVERLY HILLS, May 10, (THEWILL) – As the UEFA Champions League finalists Chelsea and Manchester United, both from the English Premier League, continue their preparations ahead of the third meeting in their season-long trilogy at home and in Europe, plans are afoot to decide on the venue for the final as Istanbul, which was scheduled to host this year’s UCL last match, comes under COVID-19 scrutiny.
This has not gone down well with Turkish officials, who are understandably keen to keep an event which they had initially planned to host last year but for the COVID-19 pandemic, which altered those plans. It is not helped by the fact that they invested about £20 million upgrading the Atatürk Olympic Stadium specifically for this moment.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) notes this particularly and has already outlined a new schedule which would see Istanbul given the chance to hold the final in 2023, though Munich are currently down as hosts.
If that is agreeable, Munich would be kicked back to 2025, with St Petersburg keeping 2022 and Wembley hosting again in 2024.
UEFA plans to hold crunch talks with the government of the United Kingdom on Monday over potentially moving the Champions League final to Wembley Stadium in accession to suggestions from the UK after Turkey was added to the UK’s “red list” for COVID-19 travel restrictions.
However, UEFA approaches the talks with a list of criteria it has drawn up, which would have to be met for the switch to be made and for the English teams to not be encumbered by COVID-19 health and safety protocols while getting ready for their biggest tie of the season.
As reported by THEWILL, the inclusion of Turkey in the “red list” immediately cast doubts over the final match venue of Istanbul and left the EPL pair of finalists, Chelsea and Manchester City, having to worry about regulations and restrictions that could affect flying to Istanbul for the final on May 29 and returning home with only enough time for some of their players to join their national sides for the Euros.
That was when suggestions to move the final to an English location began with Wembley among the most favoured destinations. Although there are other moves that will have to occur if Wembley is picked because of a clash of schedules on the day of the finals, talks between the government and the Union can speed up the process.
Part of UEFA’s plans show a preparedness to move the game to Wembley, but they need certain criteria to be met before a final decision is taken on that. These expected criteria include the agreement of the English Football League (EFL) to move the clashing schedule of the Championship play-off final, which had been set for Wembley on the same day, to make the stadium free for the final.
Sequel to this being made possible, UEFA would want the UK government to agree to increase the number of fans permitted in the stadium from 10,000 to 22,500. Currently, government regulations allow Wembley only 10,000 fans even though plans are on ground to use the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leicester City on May 15 as a trial event to increase that by up to 20,000 fans.
A third criterion for the game to come to the UK is that UEFA wants the government to relax the quarantine rules that apply to travellers coming into the country from different places, for UEFA staff, international broadcasters and sponsors. If these are not relaxed, the existing regulations mean they will be forced to undergo a ten-day isolation period.
As UEFA mulls different venues, such as Porto’s stadium in Portugal, it is exploring the possibility that a venue in the UK will remove the need for many logistical travelling issues for both teams and there is a growing belief that the final decision will be made to hand Wembley this year’s Champions League final based on the UK’s government’s response to these demands.