UEFA is planning to move its Champions League final away from Istanbul and is considering other locations as planning and scheduling have been shaken up by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UEFA executive committee is to meet on June 17 to examine the findings of a working group that has been assessing how to complete competitions suspended in March — they are likely to finish in stadiums with no spectators.
UEFA is aiming to complete its elite club competition in August after the delayed domestic leagues of the remaining sides have managed to conclude. The Champions League round of 16 has yet to be fully completed.
The Champions League final was due to be staged yesterday at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul.
UEFA had already concluded that using Istanbul was no longer feasible this year and that one option was to stage all of the remaining matches in a single city, one person with knowledge of the planning said on condition of anonymity.
There are restrictions on air travel across Europe and Turkey has banned international arrivals.
The priority for the location of the matches would be accessibility to players and officials, as there are unlikely to be any fans allowed at the remaining Champions League games.
This means that the choice of a Champions League final venue is likely to be determined by travel logistics amid coronavirus curbs, as well as an ability to implement the necessary hygiene protocols and testing.
The most experienced European nation playing during the pandemic is Germany — the first of the major leagues to resume two weeks ago.
The Europa League is also in flux, but one club confirmed plans to play the final eight in a single city.
Spanish club Getafe is due to play Inter in the last 16.
“It seems what they want to do is to play the quarter-finals and semi-finals at the same venue,” Getafe president Angel Torres told Spain’s Onda Cero radio. “It seems they will make the decision on June 17.”
UEFA said that various options are being explored for its competitions, but that no decisions have been made.
However, the Turkish Football Federation and local fans are still hoping that the final might be played in Istanbul in August.
“It would of course be a source of pride to host a new final in Istanbul,” said Atakan Bodan, a member of ultrAslan, the main fan club of Istanbul side Galatasaray.
“[Istanbul] is a city of soccer. We are passionate,” said the soccer fan, who feels that the suspension of top soccer leagues has “robbed him of joy in his life.”
All soccer fans remember the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, with Liverpool’s stunning comeback and penalty shoot-out victory over AC Milan after trailing 3-0 by halftime. The final of this year’s edition was set to be held at the same venue, the Ataturk Olympic Stadium.
The New York Times on Friday reported that Istanbul might be chosen to host a future final, when it is safe for fans to travel from abroad in large numbers.
Spanish radio Cadena Cope cited Lisbon as a possible fallback, while Sky Italy spoke of Germany.
“Whatever the scenario — final or mini-tournament — we are ready,” the federation said, highlighting Turkey’s infrastructure and record against the pandemic.
Additional reporting by AFP
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