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UEFA Champions League final to be moved from Istanbul to Portugal

With Istanbul in lockdown until at least May 17, the Champions League final will once again be moved. Manchester City and Chelsea will now vye for the title in Portugal after talks to move it to England broke down.

Ukraine: Real Madrid vs Liverpool - UEFA Champions 

The all-English Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea will be played in Portugal for the second year running, according to reports.

There had been talks to play European football’s showpiece game at Wembley Stadium in London. But that proved unworkable and the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto, will be handed hosting rights.

UEFA was unable to secure the quarantine exemptions required for media and guests to be able to fly into the UK capital.

On Wednesday, Portuguese authorities approved the return of fans for the final round of league matches on May 19, allowing stadiums up to 10% capacity.

Turkey on ‘Red List’

UEFA’s hopes of playing the game in Istanbul were scuppered by Turkey being added to the United Kingdom’s “red list” of countries with severe coronavirus outbreaks.

The British government’s decision just two days after the semifinal lineup was completed made it impossible for supporters to travel to Turkey from England. The UK government immediately opened discussions with UEFA about the possibility of moving the May 29 final to England.

Bayern Munich celebrate winning the 2020 Champions League finalLast season’s Champions League final was also played in Portugal due to COVID-19

However, discussions between UEFA and the UK failed to reach a resolution on Monday with the competition’s organizer wanting waivers to allow media, sponsors and guests to fly in without having to quarantine, people familiar with the talks told The Associated Press.

Portugal is on England’s “green list” of 12 low-risk territories where from next Monday, people aren’t required to quarantine upon their return, making it easier for thousands of City and Chelsea fans to travel. Portugal would have to lift its current block on tourists from Britain.

Impact on Istanbul

UEFA’s plans to move the final from Istanbul to another European city came as no big surprise to Turkey as European football’s governing body had also moved the final last year, when the Turkish metropolis had also been slated to host the event.

However, the discussions in the Turkish public and the media have mostly concentrated on the statements made by Nihat Özdemir, the head of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF). Özdemir told a Turkish newspaper last week that “they would come to play the final game like a lamb”, suggesting UEFA ultimately wouldn’t renege on the initial deal.

However, UEFA’s decision has embarrassed Özdemir, who has already been under fire at home due to a number of controversial refereeing decisions in the final weeks of the Turkish Super League.

Istanbul's Ataturk StadiumIstanbul’s Ataturk Stadium should host the 2022 final after being unable to host the last two due to COVID-Erdogan under fire 

Even before the decision became official, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government had drawn criticism from the opposition over the possible switch of venue. Turkey’s main opposition party CHP has accused the government of failing to successfully manage the coronavirus pandemic and causing Turkey to miss the chance to promote the country by hosting the biggest global event in club football.

The switch could also send an undesirable message to potential tourists eyeing Turkey as a holiday destination this summer especially with Britain being one of the country’s biggest sources of foreign visitors. This could help undermine Turkey’s efforts to revitalize tourism, a critical sector of the country’s economy.

The pandemic has hurt Turkey’s tourism revenue, which plunged by two-thirds to $12 billion (€9.89 billion) last year.

km,co,pfd/jt/mds, (AP, Reuters)

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