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UK put Turkey on travel ‘red list’, trying to get Champions League final moved

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Machinations

Manchester City v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Leg Two Photo by Jan Kruger - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

The 2021 Champions League final is set to take place at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey on May 29, 2021. This was decided way back in 2018, almost exactly three years ago — though that’s not exactly true, and a lot has happened in those three years.

Istanbul was set to actually host the 2020 final, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that assignment got shifted back one year (as did the original 2021 host, St. Petersburg, who will now host the 2022 final, and Munich the year after, and London the year after that), with a special bubble tournament held last year to crown a winner in Lisbon, Portugal.

And all was well and good except that the pandemic is not quite over and several parts of the world are experiencing new outbreaks and surges. One of those places, at least according to the UK government, is Turkey, who were placed on a travel “red list” effective May 12. That means any traveler returning from Turkey would have to quarantine for at least 11 nights, which would make it prohibitive for the two teams involved in said final to travel to Turkey then return for their players’ subsequent international assignments ahead of Euro 2020 2021.

Turkey themselves are in lockdown right now, but that is expected to be lifted in the next 7-10 days. Turkey’s recent surge, now on the downslope, was comparable to the one seen in the UK in January (with around 60k daily cases at its peak, from a slightly larger overall population).

The UK government is of course advising that no fans should thus travel to see their team play (even if a limited number will probably be allowed to attend), but it’s the players themselves who present a bigger problem. UK transport secretary Grant Shapps left no doubt about the government being aware of this issue with regards to Turkey and what is in effect a travel ban.

“I’m afraid we are having to put Turkey on the red list and this will have a number of ramifications.

“First of all, It does mean I’m afraid with regard to the Champions League that fans should not travel to Turkey. The FA, I can tell you, are in discussions with UEFA already on this, we are very open to hosting the final but it is ultimately a decision for UEFA.

“Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the UK has already got a successful track record of football matches with spectators, so we’re well placed to do it. I have spoken to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport this afternoon about this so we’re very open to it. But in the end, it is a decision for UEFA to make given that there are two English clubs in that final.”

-Grant Shapps; source: The Athletic

Shapps’ comments are being (rightly) seen as a not very overt attempt by the government to force UEFA to move the final from Turkey to the UK, which should find plenty of moral support in these anti-Super League and pro-fan power times, which UEFA themselves have championed. Whether they put their moneys (literally) where their proverbial mouths have been remains to be seen, though more recent reports claim that they are actually open to the idea.

This is of course a fairly unprecedented situation, and the UK government could in fact have pretty much the final say. While “elite” sports have often been given an exception to quarantine rules, if the government draws a hard line on this for Chelsea and Manchester City players, UEFA may not really have much of a choice in the matter in the end. Can’t hold a final without teams! UEFA had already moved games in the knockout rounds as it was necessary, including some of Chelsea’s, so it wouldn’t be something totally new even if this involves the final itself.

As to where in England or the UK such a final might be staged if not Istanbul, Wembley is not an option due to the Championship playoff final on the same day (May 29) unless that’s moved, but the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, host of the 2017 Champions League final is one obvious alternate possibility.