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Wembley's chances of hosting an all-English Champions League final will hinge on whether the UK Government will make exceptions to its quarantine rules for overseas media, sponsors and officials.
Talks will be held on Monday over moving Uefa’s showpiece final from Istanbul to London after Manchester City and Chelsea qualified for the final and Turkey was placed on the UK’s ‘red list’ of countries to which travel is only permitted in exceptional circumstances.
English-based fans of the two clubs have been told that they should not attend and players would need a special exemption to then avoid 10 days in a quarantine hotel when they return on the eve of Euro 2021.
The British Government has offered to instead host the game, with the English Football League also ready to switch their dates for the Championship play-off final so European club football’s showpiece event could be staged at Wembley on May 29.
Watch: Fans should not travel to Turkey for Champions League final
Uefa very much want fans at the final, but moving venues with only 19 days’ notice would require a huge logistical upheaval. Sources have said a decision must be taken early this week, with the British Government and Uefa ready to hold crunch talks on Monday.
The key for Uefa is expected to be Boris Johnson’s stance towards quarantine rules for people travelling into London from other countries for the game. Around 1,000 VIPs, officials, media and sponsors are due to attend this year’s Champions League.
At present, people who have been in a red list country over the previous 10 days can only travel to England if they are a British or Irish national or have residence rights. Those from an amber list country must quarantine at home or in the place they are staying for 10 days.
Those amber list countries include major European football nations like France, Spain, Italy and Germany but also Switzerland, where Uefa’s headquarters and staff are based.
Although Portugal has been suggested as a back-up option, it is understood that Uefa are currently focussed on the choice between Istanbul and London. The attitude in Turkey will also be critical and there has been ongoing communication between representatives of Uefa and the Turkish FA.
A £20 million stadium refurbishment has taken place at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium and they have already been forced to wait a year following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
The precise terms of the Turkish FA’s Champions League contract with Uefa is unclear - and there may be a clause that allows for exceptional circumstances - but some sort of deal would almost certainly need to be struck.
The 2022 Champions League final has already been assigned to St Petersburg but there is a suggestion that Munich’s bid to host the tournament in 2023 could move back to the next vacant date in 2025. This would then allow the final to be hosted in Istanbul in 2023, which would also coincide with the centenary of the Turkish Republic. Turkey has just been placed in lockdown following a surge in Covid-19 cases.
It is understand that the UK Government is waiting to hear more details from Uefa before formulating its response on the quarantine issue, but it has previously considered exemptions for players from other tournaments.
As well as allowing officials, Uefa would also expect the UK Government to permit similar fan numbers as Istanbul, which was ready to host around 25,000.
Fans can start attending matches in England later this month and, although the number is capped at 10,000, the British government has relaxed that rule by allowing 21,000 at next weekend’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leicester City.
Fans groups from both Manchester City and Chelsea have urged Uefa to switch the game to an English venue so that they have best possible chance of attending. Chelsea were crowned European champions for the only time in 2012 and Manchester City have never previously reached a Champions League final.
Uefa 'seriously considering' Wembley as hopes for Champions League final switch grow
Watch: UK 'willing to host' UEFA final
By Tom Morgan
Uefa is seriously considering Boris Johnson’s offer to bring the Champions League final to Wembley with insiders now giving London a "50/50 chance" of hosting the game.
A choice between Wembley and Istanbul, where a £20million stadium refurbishment has been completed, is expected within 72 hours. The decision is said to be on a knife edge but English football will be buoyed by news Uefa sees hosting the game at the national stadium as a viable option.
One source close to talks said European football’s governing body had been left "between a rock and a hard place" after the UK put Turkey on the foreign-travel 'red list'.
The decision meant 12,000 Manchester City and Chelsea fans were effectively blocked from travelling to the final on May 29.
Friday’s announcement is said to have caught Uefa on the hop and on Saturday they were scrambling to find a solution knowing their decision will either lock out supporters or cause havoc for broadcasters.
Telegraph Sport understands Lisbon or Budapest have been ruled out, with Wembley identified as the only realistic option.
Such a late switch would anger the Turkish Football Federation and cause serious issues with quarantine for many international TV companies, who are among the competition’s main funders.
Sticking with Istanbul, with Manchester City and Chelsea fans now banned from travelling, would be just as politically contentious with newly-empowered fans in the aftermath of the European Super League fiasco.
Turkish football chiefs are adamant the game should remain at Atatürk Olympic Stadium as planned. "UK officials seem to insist, but we are moving ahead according to Uefa directions and statements," the nation’s football federation said, adding: "We will be hosting the final in Istanbul."
Whitehall sources said on Saturday that ministers were sympathetic to the tough decision facing Uefa. The governing body received no advance notice of the Government’s announcement on Friday. An announcement due to be made around ticketing arrangements has been held back, but Uefa chiefs want a final decision made early next week so supporters can begin making preparations.
The Prime Minister had lent his backing to bringing the game to Wembley on Friday night following the announcement of UK travel rules that would force players to quarantine for 10 days. With a host of England players due to feature, that would plunge Gareth Southgate’s preparations for the European Championship into chaos.
If Uefa does end up sticking with Istanbul, the Government could look to grant the English players exemptions from the quarantine rules.
But after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced Turkey would join the UK's red list on May 17, Mr Johnson told The Sun: "The Champions League is the pinnacle of European club football. With two English teams in the final, it would be a great shame if fans were unable to attend. It would be brilliant to host it here if we can. I want to help supporters of both clubs see their team in action."
The EFL, meanwhile, has expressed openness to potentially rearranging the play-off finals if Uefa make contact. Wembley is due to host the Sky Bet Championship play-off final on May 29, with the League One and League Two equivalents arranged for the following two days.
Turkey is currently in lockdown amid an alarming surge in coronavirus cases. Speaking on Friday, Mr Shapps said the British Government was "very open to hosting the final" and the FA was in discussions with Uefa. "Red countries are those which should not be visited except in the most extreme of circumstances," Mr Shapps said.
City and Chelsea booked their places in the showpiece event earlier this week after overcoming Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid respectively. Kevin Parker, the general secretary of the Manchester City Supporters Club, and Cliff Auger, chair of the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, have repeatedly appealed for the match to be moved to England.
Watch: How many all-English European finals have there been?