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Explained: Why Istanbul may lose hosting rights for the Champions League final

Hosting rights for this year’s final, between Manchester City and Chelsea on May 29, may again be taken away from the Turkish venue.

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: May 11, 2021 7:46:21 am
Champions League 2021, Champions League 2021 final, Manchester City vs Chelsea, Istanbul Champions League final, Turkey coronavirus newsView of the screen pointing to Champions League finals after the Champions League semifinal second leg soccer match between Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain at the Etihad stadium, in Manchester, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (AP Photo)

There is a chance that the venue for the UEFA Champions League final will change for the second time in as many years. The 2020 final between Paris Saint-Germain and eventual winners Bayern Munich was originally to be held at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, but was moved to the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hosting rights for this year’s final, between Manchester City and Chelsea on May 29, may again be taken away from the Turkish venue. There have been talks with Europe’s governing body UEFA to possibly move the final to England. The decision is still pending, and the Turks aren’t keen on letting it slip away again.

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Why is the change being proposed?

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Last Friday, the United Kingdom government placed Turkey on a ‘Red List’ in terms of people travelling to the UK from there. It means that any and all passengers travelling to the UK from Turkey will be forced to undergo 10 days of mandatory quarantine at pre-approved airport hotels – with no exceptions.
Based on this, both the English clubs, their support staff, and their 4,000 fans each allowed to travel, will have to be put into isolation once they return to England. This will also hamper England’s preparation for the European Championships (the rescheduled Euro 2020). Assuming teams return on May 30, their quarantine will end on June 9, and the international competition starts on June 11.

When was Istanbul given hosting rights?

In May 2018, it was decided the Ataturk Stadium will host the 2020 Champions League final for the first time since the 2005 edition. Due to the pandemic however, the 2020 final was shifted to Lisbon, Portugal.

The 2021 final was to be held at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia, however UEFA decided to push back the final hosts by a year – Istanbul would host 2021 (instead of 2020), Saint Petersburg will host in 2022 (instead of 2021).

The Turkish stadium now stands to lose hosting rights for the final for the second time in as many years. Incidentally, the last and only time the venue hosted a final in 2005, an English club came out victorious as Liverpool beat AC Milan on penalties – a match dubbed ‘The Miracle of Istanbul.’

Is the shift confirmed?

Not yet. The English Football Association (FA) is in talks with UEFA regarding a shift.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed for the change to happen.

Chelsea’s Thiago Silva, left, celebrates with his teammate Andreas Chistensen at the end of the Champions League semifinal 2nd leg soccer match between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge in London, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Chelsea won 2-0. (AP Photo)

“The Champions League is the pinnacle of European club football,” he was quoted by The Sun. “And with two English teams contesting the final, it would be a great shame if fans were unable to attend. It would be brilliant to host the game here if we can. I want to help supporters of both clubs see their team in action.”

UK Transport Secretary Grand Shapps also promoted the idea of England hosting the final, but asserted the decision rested with UEFA.

“The UK has a successful track record of hosting matches with spectators so we are well placed to do it,” he said according to the BBC. “So we are very open to it, but it is actually in the end a decision for UEFA to make. But given it is two English clubs in the final, we look forward to hearing what they have to say.”

At the moment, all Premier League matches are being held behind closed doors.

Istanbul recorded 15,191 cases on May 9. The Turkish Football Federation however is firm that it still holds hosting rights.

“UK officials seem to insist but we are moving ahead according to UEFA directions and statements. There were no updates on this from an official channel, we will be hosting the final in Istanbul,” a spokesperson said, as reported by ESPN.

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Has UEFA said anything about the issue?

Yes, but the body has indicated that Istanbul will host the match as of now.

“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 (in Turkey) should not have any impact on the match. UEFA continues to work closely with the Turkish Football Federation and the local and national authorities to stage the match safely,” a UEFA spokesperson said to The Guardian.

What does Istanbul stand to lose?

A host city has an influx of revenue through tourism, as hoards of travelling fans would book accommodation and dine at local restaurants. Ticket sales bring in some income, and given the high-profile nature of a Champions League final, there is no doubt sponsorship revenue that comes in.

Where can it happen if not in Istanbul?

The immediate name that comes to mind is the Wembley Stadium in London. However, the venue will be hosting the English Championship Play-offs that same weekend. In Birmingham however, Aston Villa has shown interest in organising the match at their Villa Park stadium.

There’s also a chance the final may move to Lisbon again this year.

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