Lisbon has been chosen to host a mini-tournament to decide football’s Champions League, despite concerns about a spike in coronavirus cases in the Portuguese capital.
Quarter- and semi-finals as well as the final will take place between August 12 and 23. The final was supposed to be held in Istanbul but UEFA — European football’s governing body — decided the Turkish city lacked the logistical capacity to host all the matches. Istanbul will now get the showpiece event in 2021.
Portugal lobbied heavily to get the tournament, which will take place during one of the most important months for the tourism industry, a major pilar of the country’s economy.
Prime Minister António Costa has sought to portray Portugal as a safe destination that has weathered the pandemic much better than neighboring Spain, but growing infection rates in Lisbon threaten to undermine that image.
According to the General Directorate for Health, 15,646 of the 37,672 confirmed cases were detected in Lisbon, 4,153 of which were detected during the first half of June. Some 288 new cases were confirmed in the capital on Wednesday.
Costa has sought to downplay the outbreak, arguing that the growing number of cases is linked to increased testing, but Ricardo Mexia, president of the National Association of Public Health Doctors, dismissed that explanation and told Portuguese media this week that the numbers coming out of the region were “worrying.”
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin did not rule out the possibility of the matches being played with spectators present, but even if they are barred there are fears of contagion if fans gather outside stadiums.
Čeferin said that while there was “no plan B,” the organization was in close contact with Portuguese authorities and would assess the situation in Lisbon day by day.
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