The all-English Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City on May 29 has been switched to Porto after UEFA’s request to bring 2,000 people into the UK without quarantine was turned down by the Government.
A line was drawn through Istanbul, the initial city chosen to stage the final, after the UK Government added Turkey to its high-risk ‘red list’ for international travel amid the Covid-19 pandemic, denying fans the chance to attend.
Wembley was considered as an alternative, but the UK Government could not accommodate the request to allow quarantine exemptions for thousands of sponsors, VIPs and broadcasters, which made Porto the front-runner.
Secretary of State Oliver Dowden told a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing the UK Government had constructive dialogue with UEFA but a resolution could not be reached.
“Ultimately I was unable and the Government was unable to give an assurance to UEFA that we would be willing to vary our quarantine rules in the way they wished to happen,” Dowden said.
“We had a very constructive discussion with UEFA and it was a genuine difference that couldn’t be overcome. I respect the decision that UEFA made and I think they respect the fact the Government wasn’t able to move on that.”
Asked how many people UEFA wanted to bring over with no quarantine, Dowden added: “It was 2,000. It was a wide variety of people, really you have to address these questions to UEFA.”
UEFA confirmed that 6,000 tickets would be made available to each of the finalists, with the final capacity limit at the Estadio do Dragao still to be fixed.
European football’s governing body said in a statement: “The final was originally scheduled to take place at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul but, following the UK government’s decision to place Turkey on its red list of Covid-19 travel destinations, staging the final there would have meant none of the clubs’ domestic fans would be able to travel to the game.
“After a year of fans being locked out of stadiums, UEFA thought that everything needed to be done to ensure the supporters of the two finalist teams could attend.
“UEFA discussed moving the match to England but, despite exhaustive efforts on the part of the Football Association and the authorities, it was not possible to achieve the necessary exemptions from UK quarantine arrangements.”
The decision means Portugal will host the Champions League final for the second year in a row, after Lisbon was the location for the delayed final stages of last season’s competition.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said: “Once again we have turned to our friends in Portugal to help both UEFA and the Champions League and I am, as always, very grateful to the FPF (Portuguese football federation) and the Portuguese government for agreeing to stage the match at such short notice.
“I think we can all agree that we hope never to experience a year like the one we have just endured.
“Fans have had to suffer more than 12 months without the ability to see their teams live and reaching a Champions League final is the pinnacle of club football. To deprive those supporters of the chance to see the match in person was not an option and I am delighted that this compromise has been found.
“After the year that fans have endured, it is not right that they don’t have the chance to watch their teams in the biggest game of the season.”
He added: “We accept the decision of the British Government to place Turkey on the red list for travel was taken in good faith and in the best interests of protecting its citizens from the spread of the virus, but it also presented us with a major challenge in staging a final featuring two English teams.
“The difficulties of moving the final are great and the FA and the authorities made every effort to try to stage the match in England and I would like to thank them for their work in trying to make it happen.
“The Turkish Football Federation and the Turkish authorities have recognised UEFA’s efforts to give fans of the competing clubs a chance to watch the game.
“The Turkish Football Federation and the authorities have always been reliable partners of UEFA and Turkey has hosted many UEFA events over the years with great success. I hope to be in Istanbul and Turkey for a Champions League final and many other events in the near future.
“I hope the final will be a symbol of hope at the re-emergence of Europe from a difficult period and that the fans who travel to the game will once again be able to lend their voices to showcase this final as the best in club football.”
According to the BBC, Portuguese cabinet office minister Mariana Vieira Da Silva said in a briefing on Thursday that under current plans for the final, a series of restrictions to British fans would apply.
As well as the limit on ticket sales, fans will have to fly in on charter planes, arriving and leaving “on the same day”.
Vieira Da Silva described the plans as “a bubble situation”, with fans being transported between fan zones, the stadium and the airport and needing a negative coronavirus test before travelling.