LONDON – Britain on Friday said it was willing to step in to host the Champions League football final, after the UK government placed Turkey on a coronavirus travel red list.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was “very open to hosting the final round” of the competition, which is due to take place between English clubs Manchester City and Chelsea in Istanbul on May 29.
The English Football Association were in talks with European football's governing body UEFA already, he said, but added the choice of venue for the final was a decision for UEFA.
Shapps said Chelsea and City supporters should not travel to Istanbul, telling a Downing Street press conference: “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 with the regards to the Champions League, fans should not travel to Turkey.
“The FA are in discussions with UEFA already on this.
“We are very open to hosting the final but it is ultimately a decision for UEFA.”
“But given there are two English clubs in that final, we look forward to hearing what they have to say.”
“The UK has already got a successful track record of football matches with spectators, so we are well-placed to do it,”Shapps added.
Explaining the travel restrictions, Shapps said: “Red countries are those which should not be visited except in the most extreme of circumstances, where repeated testing and isolation in designated government hotels on return is compulsory.
“Non-UK residents who have been in a red country in the last 10 days will still be barred from entering the UK.”
UEFA need ‘time to reflect'
UEFA responded to the British government's decision by telling AFP in an email: “We have just learned that Turkey has been put on the red list and we need a bit of time to reflect on this.”
City have yet to comment on the UK government's offer to stage the final, with British media reports indicating the club would wait for guidance from UEFA.
But the Chelsea Supporters' Trust, who are due to meet with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, called for the final to be moved to the UK.
“Turkey has been added to the red list and therefore no CFC supporters can travel to watch the UCL final,” said a CST tweet.
“We are meeting with the UEFA president this week and will request that the fixture is moved to the UK.”
When Turkey announced plans for a third lockdown last week following a coronavirus surge, UEFA insisted this “should not have any impact” on the Champions League final, set to take place at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium with a “limited number of spectators”.
Turkey had seen daily Covid-19 death tolls rise to around 350, higher than during two previous spikes last year.
Last year's final was also scheduled to played at the Ataturk Stadium but the pandemic forced UEFA to organise instead a “Final 8” tournament in Lisbon in August.
City and Chelsea secured their places in this season's final after wins this week over Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid respectively.
Some matches in earlier rounds of the Champions League were played at neutral venues on health grounds.
The question of two clubs from the same European country playing a final abroad is not just an issue for football.
For example, French teams La Rochelle and Toulouse are set to contest rugby union's European Champions Cup final at the English game's Twickenham headquarters in southwest London on May 22.