UEFA set to ignore calls to move all English Champions League final to the UK on safety grounds


UEFA is expected to confirm ticket allocations for the Champions League final in Istanbul today, despite pressure from politicians and health experts to move the all-English final to the UK on safety grounds.

The European football governing body has stood firm this week, despite extremely high rates of coronavirus infections in Turkey, which is currently in a ‘full lockdown’.

Manchester City and Chelsea have qualified for the showpiece final on May 29, after stunning semi-final wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, respectively.

And flights from Stansted to Istanbul Sabiha have already tripled in price for the weekend of the final. A return flight travelling Friday lunchtime and returning Sunday morning on Pegasus Airlines will cost £321, compared to just £93 the week before.

Manchester City fans celebrate their team's victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday night

Manchester City fans celebrate their team’s victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday night

Chelsea fans celebrate outside the ground after beating Real Madrid 2-0 in their semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge last night

Chelsea fans celebrate outside the ground after beating Real Madrid 2-0 in their semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge last night

But there are questions from politicians and scientists whether fans should be travelling at all.

Following City and Chelsea’s triumphant qualification, MPs have called for the Istanbul final to be moved and public health experts have said it is ‘ridiculous’ to stage the game in a covid hotspot and encourage thousands of fans to travel there at this time.

It’s been pointed out that unlike usual leisure travel, fans will feel huge pressure to attend the ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity, even if they will struggle to self-isolate on their return.

This week UEFA said it expects to announce ‘detailed information regarding the capacity for the match, travel and ticketing details… by the end of the week’. And sources suggest that is still the intention.

A total of 25,000 tickets - around a third of the Ataturk Stadium's (pictured) capacity - are expected to be made available, with 9,000 of these split between English fans of the two sides

A total of 25,000 tickets – around a third of the Ataturk Stadium’s (pictured) capacity – are expected to be made available, with 9,000 of these split between English fans of the two sides

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL

Manchester City v Chelsea

Venue: Ataturk Stadium, Istanbul. Capacity 76,000

Expected capacity for final: 25,000

Expected ticket allocation: 4,500 per club with a possibility that a further 1,500 could be allocated to each team , if they organise travel and accommodation in Turkey

Coronavirus infections: 320 confirmed cases per million people per day (compared to 30 in the UK)

Coronavirus vaccinations: 17% of population has received at least one dose

Expected travel guidance: Amber list, which would require people returning from Turkey to self-isolate for 10 days, taking test of day two and eight.

Entry requirements: Currently, before boarding a flight to Turkey, passengers (above the age of six) are required to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure.

The Times has reported today, the match will take place in Turkey and 12,000 fans from three English clubs will have access to tickets. Club allocations will be 4,500 each, according to the newspaper, with a further 1,500 each on offer if each team agrees to arrange travel and accommodation.

Meanwhile, Manchester United fans will be checking out their travel options for Gdansk in Poland, after the Red Devils confirmed their place in the Europa League final on May 26, last night with an aggregate win over Roma.

Fans of all three clubs will learn what requirements the government will impose on travel to Istanbul and Gdansk, when it announces details of its traffic light system later today.

Gdansk Stadium in Poland is due to host the Europa League final on May 26 this year

Gdansk Stadium in Poland is due to host the Europa League final on May 26 this year

EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL

Manchester United v Villareal

Venue: Gdansk Stadium, Gdansk, Poland. Capacity 40,000

Confirmed capacity for final: 9,500

Confirmed ticket allocation: 2,000 tickets per finalist plus a further 2,000 on general sale

Coronavirus infection rate: 124 confirmed cases per million people per day (compared to 30 in the UK)

Coronavirus vaccinations: 25% of population has received at least one dose

Expected travel guidance: Amber list, which would require people returning from Poland to self-isolate for 10 days, taking test of day two and eight.

Entry requirements: Currently travellers from the UK to Poland can gain an exemption from self-isolation in the country if they take a PCR or antigen for coronavirus on arrival and it is negative. Fans may need to pre-book tests at facilities at or near airports.

It is currently still illegal for Brits to travel abroad for non-essential reasons but this is expected to change on May 17, when the Foreign Office is likely to allow people to fly to countries with low Covid infection rates.

Travellers to countries on the ‘red list’ will have to quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel on their arrival in the UK.

Those coming from ‘amber list’ countries will be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days, taking covid test on day two and eights. While those returning from countries on the ‘green list’ will not have to isolate, but will have to take a test.

It is widely expected that Turkey and Poland will be on the amber list, requiring travelling fans to isolate and test on their return.

The LED screen inside Manchester City's Etihad Stadium displays a message of "Good luck in Istanbul!" ahead of the final

The LED screen inside Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium displays a message of ‘Good luck in Istanbul!’ ahead of the final

City put on a fantastic display to reach their first Champions League final in Istanbul where they will face Chelsea

City put on a fantastic display to reach their first Champions League final in Istanbul where they will face Chelsea

Chelsea booked their place in the Champions League final following a 3-1 aggregate victory over Real Madrid on Wednesday

Chelsea booked their place in the Champions League final following a 3-1 aggregate victory over Real Madrid on Wednesday

Manchester United and Edinson Cavani confirmed their place in the Europa League final

Manchester United and Edinson Cavani confirmed their place in the Europa League final

However, public health experts and MPs have spoken out against holding the match in Turkey and insist it should be switched to England.

Public health expert Professor Keith Neal told Sportsmail: ‘The risk is ridiculous.’

‘It is corporate negligence on the part of UEFA. The fans will not just go for the game. They will go there for a few days; they will drink and mix.’

Turkey has suffered a devastating spike of coronavirus, with a peak of 60,000 cases and 300 deaths a day in April and rates of infection remain thirteen times higher than the UK. 

The country has a Covid infection rate more than 10 times higher than Britain’s, with 320 new cases per million people announced yesterday, compared to just 30 in the UK. Likewise, there were 31,200 more positive tests confirmed on Tuesday, alongside just 2,000 in the UK. 

‘It could be managed safely here. You could have 20,000 or 30,0000 fans at Wembley quite safely and use lateral flow tests before they go in. You just need enough testers.

‘When the fans come back, we know too many will not self-isolate,’ added the University of Nottingham expert.

‘Too many clusters are related to people breaching quarantine in one way or another,’ he added. ‘There are too many people who do not self-isolate.’

Turkey’s rate of coronavirus cases is around 12 times higher than Britain’s and double the European average as the country is still in the grip of its second wave, with over 30,000 cases announced on Tuesday

Supporters of the two teams have also backed calls for suggested there would be plenty of appetite for moving the final to the UK.

Cliff Auger, the chairman of the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, told the Telegraph it was ‘the ideal scenario’, while Kevin Parker, general secretary of the Manchester City Supporters Group suggested UEFA ‘owe the British Government a favour’ over last month’s European Super League mess.

Aston Villa have offered to stage the final as an alternative to Istanbul, according to Sky Sports, but UEFA has given no indication the match will be moved.

Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead and the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group of Football Supporters insisted UEFA has a social responsibility and ‘must look at the implications’.

Mr Mearns believes fans of both clubs will face huge temptation to attend the game, even if they will struggle to isolate when they return.

‘For some of them it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to a final and the temptation will be massive for a lot of fans,’ he said.

‘But they have to think: ‘Do we want to be in a position where we jeopardise where we have got to in lockdown?”

Mr Mearns, an avid Newcastle fan, said he would not go to Turkey to watch the Magpies play if they were in the showpiece final this month.

And he believes UEFA should move the game to England and play it behind closed doors.

‘At the moment, wherever it is played there will be so few fans. Would it not be better to play in England behind closed doors? I am terribly sorry for the fans of both clubs but that seems to be the safest thing to do.’

Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, ordered a full lockdown of the country on Thursday last week, which will last until May 17, in an attempt to drive the level of infection down, with schools closed and travel restricted.

But there is still an exemption for international tourists as the country tries to hold on to a crucial source of revenue.

Turkey will be desperate to stage the game with fans to show the world that it is open for business after coronavirus wrecked the tourist season last summer.

Politicians in the country fear European destinations will steal away customers as beaches, bars and restaurants reopen.

The foreign cash that tourists spend is critical to offset Turkey’s heavy foreign debt, but revenues plunged 65 per cent last year when the pandemic first hit, according to Reuters.

Turkey is hoping to host 30million foreigners this year, twice as many as last, if the lockdown succeeds in lowering daily Covid cases to below 5,000 from near 30,000 in recent days.

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