The Champions League final will now be staged in Porto in Portugal after the UK government and UEFA could not reach agreement over quarantine exemptions for more than 2,000 VIPs, staff and media for the match to be played at Wembley. It will be officially ratified by UEFA on Thursday.
The all-English final between Manchester City and Chelsea was originally scheduled for the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul on May 29.
UEFA was forced to look at alternative venues after a devastating Covid outbreak in Turkey caused the UK government to place the country on its red list for travel, and banned English fans from going.
And the 50,000-capacity Estadio do Dragao in Porto has now been lined up as the venue for the final after UEFA struck a deal with the Portuguese authorities over the attendance at the match.
Chelsea and Manchester City will each receive a ticket allocation of between 4,500 and 6,000.
But health experts and MPs have criticised the decision for putting supporters at unnecessary risk in the middle of a pandemic, insisting UEFA should have foregone VIPs this year and made it a ‘fans’ final’ in London.
Hopes were initially high that the match would come to Wembley and the UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin both appeared committed to making the switch, but they could not find enough common ground to make it work, with concerns over the UK’s quarantine rules.
After lengthy talks, officials from both sides had to accept defeat.
As well as experts and MPs, fans had also demanded the match be played at Wembley, which could have hosted 22,500 fans for the final.
The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust urged Ceferin at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, to explore ‘all possibilities’ in London before making a decision.
But Dom Rosso, the trust’s vice chairman, posted on Twitter that Ceferin had also emphasised the importance of accommodating sponsors, which suggested Wembley’s star was fading.
Such was the intense nature of the negotiations that Ceferin left the fans’ Zoom call to make further phone calls as he sought to finalise the location and attendance for the match.
A late sticking point in Portugal was how many fans would be allowed to attend.
Portugal is yet to let any supporters return to matches and UEFA wanted the authorities to scale up quickly to enable them to make significant allocations to clubs and sponsors.
The selection of Porto will at least allow supporters to make firm plans.
Portugal has been placed on the UK’s ‘green list’ for travel, which means supporters will be able to fly there and back with minimal restrictions and will not have to isolate on their return.
Supporters have wasted no time in organising their trips. Flight prices to Portugal rocketed this week even before the Wembley talks had concluded.
A return direct flight at midday for the weekend of the game from Stansted to Porto was available for £200 on Tuesday morning, but rocketed three-fold to £623 by Wednesday afternoon.
Cheaper fares are still on sale for people willing to travel early in the morning or using indirect routes.
Lisbon flights have also increased, as speculation initially suggested the Portuguese capital could stage the game. Flights bought on Monday evening for £160 had soared to £309 – an increase of 93% – by Tuesday morning as fans began to realise Portugal was a more likely destination.
Flights from Manchester have also risen sharply week on week.
The prospect of Wembley hosting the showpiece were dashed because more than 2,000 VIPs, staff and media due to attend the game would require an exemption from the UKs covid travel restrictions.
The rules require visitors from red and amber list countries to isolate for 10 days and they are due to come into force from May 17. They were announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.
It is understood, the English FA could scale up the attendance at Wembley to the 22,500 requested by UEFA and quarantine exemptions could have been provided for essential staff, but the number of additional guests would have been too great given the UK is about to emerge from lockdown.
NEWS SOURCE: DAILYMAIL