Boris Johnson is under pressure from Uefa to grant controversial coronavirus quarantine exemptions to tens of thousands of foreign fans, sponsors and VIPs to ensure the European Championship Final stays at Wembley.
Uefa has put forward proposals for a “strict testing and bubble concept” to allow supporters and dignitaries to avoid having to self-isolate for extended periods on arrival in the UK.
The Prime Minister responded by expressing a willingness to make “some sensible accommodations” but warned: “The priority obviously has to be public health.”
High-level talks were already taking place after Uefa wrote to the Government complaining its current restrictions were too tight.
Those restrictions would need to be relaxed for overseas fans and dignitaries to attend the July 11 final given all other nations involved in Euro 2020 are either on the amber travel list or, in the case of Turkey, the red list.
Currently, anyone travelling from these countries to London needs to quarantine for up to 10 days.
Uefa’s ability to invite media, sponsors, broadcasters and VIPs is likely to be what ultimately determines whether the final remains in London, or is moved to another country such as Hungary, where restrictions are far more relaxed.
Unlike for the Champions League Final, a compromise agreement appears set to allow some VIPs in.
Telegraph Sport has been told Uefa has written to the Government outlining its requests after ministers announced the final four Euro 2020 matches at Wembley will be played in front of at least 40,000 spectators.
Uefa said in a statement that it was “delighted that the capacity at Wembley will go up to at least 50 per cent”. “At the moment, we are in discussions with the local authorities to try to allow fans of the participating teams to attend the matches, using a strict testing and bubble concept that would mean their stay in the UK would be less than 24 hours and their movements would be restricted to approved transport and venues only,” a spokesman added. “We understand the pressures that the Government faces and hope to be able to reach a satisfactory conclusion of our discussions on the matter. There is always a contingency plan but we are confident that the final week will be held in London.”
Issues around VIP allowances previously prompted Uefa to opt to hold the all-English Champions League Final in Porto rather than Wembley, but Budapest is seen as a more likely option for the climax of Euro 2020 were talks to break down.
The Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) said: “The Hungarian organisers focus on hosting the four Budapest matches. However, MLSZ and its chairman, Sandor Csanyi, have repeatedly said MLSZ stands ready to host any high-level football event.”
The chances of a switch still appear remote, though, with senior figures on both sides recognising the majority of fans will want the final at Wembley.
All the Wembley Euros matches are included in the UK’s extended Events Research Programme, which allows for crowds over the usual 10,000 upper limit - and also means every spectator would be subject to tests before and after the game.
However, ministers have so far given no public indication at all that they are prepared to relax quarantine rules, which mean as it stands a supporter coming from an amber list country would need to test negative before departure, isolate for up to 10 days upon arrival in the UK and provide two negative tests in that time before going to watch a match.
The possibility of a relaxation had looked even more remote in the context of rising infection rates due to the Delta variant of coronavirus, which have prompted the Government to delay the final easing of restrictions until July 19 - after the Euros have finished.
But Martin Kallen, the tournament director, had struck a more positive note recently, telling a Uefa briefing on Thursday: “We are in discussion for the knockout rounds, especially the semi-finals and final, on this question to have also overseas spectators. We are in discussion every day with the authorities and we hope to come to a good conclusion with the English Government.”
Asked if it was realistic that the Government would grant concessions, Kallen added: “I hope so. At the moment it is too early to say it but we have seen some signs that there could be a possibility.
“But it’s too early to give a clear answer, we have still some time on that side.”
Earlier this month a Government spokesperson said there were “no plans to change travel exemptions for ticket holders”. “Overseas ticket holders will be able to watch Euro 2020 matches at Wembley but will be subject to travel restrictions and requirements in England and at their place of origin, including testing and quarantining,” a statement said. “There are no plans to change travel exemptions for ticket holders.”
However, Whitehall sources confirmed ministers were now discussing the issue around fans, as well as Uefa and Fifa officials, politicians, sponsors and broadcasters not having to self-isolate on arrival - despite the risk of a backlash.
In total, Uefa is likely to want around 2,500 VIPs to be able to travel without quarantining. It is unclear how many fans it would demand but relations between Uefa and Government have been warm in recent months. Telegraph Sport disclosed how Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, held a meeting recently with the Duke of Cambridge to express his gratitude over the UK's role in torpedoing the Super League breakaway.
“We’re still working through a lot of detail with Uefa and the FA,” a Whitehall source told Telegraph Sport on Friday.
Ministers are understood to recognise the fury amending the law on border restrictions for VIPs could cause while Britons are unable to take holidays abroad.
However, with a home nations 2030 World Cup bid requiring Uefa backing, there is said to be willingness on both sides to ensure an agreement is reached to keep the Euros final at Wembley.