Arsenal face £44k bill for playing Europa tie with Benfica in Rome after Portugal on ‘red list’


Arsenal will be forced to pay £44,000 to Benfica after the Portuguese club was required to move their Europa League tie to Italy as result of UK government travel restrictions.

The Round of 32 match was scheduled to take place at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, but travel restrictions between Portugal and the UK meant the game has had to be moved.

Since the restrictions have been imposed by the UK government, the Gunners will have to compensate the Portuguese club for rearranging the game.

Arsenal will face a £44,000 bill for their Europe League tie moving from Lisbon to Spain

Arsenal will face a £44,000 bill for their Europe League tie moving from Lisbon to Spain

Earlier this month, the UK placed Portugal on the ‘red list’ of high-risk Covid countries, because of concerns about the prevalence of the Brazilian variant of coronavirus.

Ministers and public health officials are scared the mutant strain may be resistant to UK vaccines and spread rapidly once it is introduced.

Anyone travelling or returning from a red list country must quarantine for 10 days and UEFA issued new guidance that matches would be relocated in these circumstances.

Arsenal’s ‘away’ leg to Benfica will now take place at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the home of AS Roma.

Benfica's home tie against Arsenal will now be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome

Benfica’s home tie against Arsenal will now be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome

The Stadio Olimpico, in Rome, is usually home to Italian giants AS Roma and Lazio

The Stadio Olimpico, in Rome, is usually home to Italian giants AS Roma and Lazio

UEFA’s Europa League competition is covered by exhaustive rules detailed in 82 articles and 10 annexes.

In light of widespread travel restrictions across Europe as a result of coronavirus, a further five pages of guidelines have been issued to explain every possible eventuality surrounding neutral venues.

Rule K1.3(ii) states that where the change in venue results from a travel restriction imposed by the government where the visiting team is located, 10% of the match fee, which for the round of 32 is £440,000 (500,000 euro), must be paid to the home club.

There are also 37 pages of medical guidance detailing steps that need to be taken to keep staff, players and officials safe in the age of Covid.

UEFA has published hundreds of pages of competition rules and guidances on Covid

UEFA has published hundreds of pages of competition rules and guidances on Covid

The guidelines dictate everything from the number of coaches needed to transport the team; the need to photograph seating plans; the requirement for three chairs in the Coronavirus testing room, and even the need to position a mirror opposite a toilet so a doping control officer can observe the passing of urine at a Covid-safe distance during routine drug testing in the stadium.

However, the guidance appears equivocal on shirt swapping, which health experts and English football authorities have identified as a high-risk activity after games.

Medical guidance includes detailed requirements for Covid testing including how many chairs should be in the room when the tests are conducted at the stadium

Medical guidance includes detailed requirements for Covid testing including how many chairs should be in the room when the tests are conducted at the stadium

WHY CAN’T ARSENAL PLAY IN PORTUGAL? 

Amid the ongoing Covid pandemic, the UK is implementing strict quarantine rules around people returning from and leaving for Portugal.

In turn, that has forced the February 18 match to be moved from Lisbon to Rome.

Portugal is on a ‘red list’ of countries drawn up by the UK government.

As of February 9, there were 2,583 new Covid cases in Portugal – with a seven-day average of 5,520. 

‘Players are recommended to refrain from swapping their shirts,’ states rule 15.8 in UEFA’s Return to Play Protocol.

But this is a key aspect in preventing the transmission of the virus from one team to another, according to Dr Julian Tang, a virologist and honorary associate professor at the University of Leicester, who said the spread of viruses through contact with shirts is well documented in sport.

‘Players need to avoid hugging, embracing and shirt swapping to avoid transmission,’ Dr Tang told Sportsmail. ‘The shirt could have sweat and saliva on it.

‘There should be no close contact. No swapping shirts and no hugging.’

Meanwhile, Arsenal’s ‘home’ leg of their last-32 Europa League tie against Benfica has been plunged into further chaos after Greece’s prime minister announced a full lockdown in Athens until February 28 to curb a surge in Covid-19 cases.

It had been confirmed on Tuesday that Olympiacos’ Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium would host Arsenal’s home leg due to Covid regulations of certain nations, after the away leg was earlier announced for Rome’s Stadio Olimpico Stadium.

But now plans are set to be re-considered once again after prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced Athens will be entering a new lockdown until the end of the month – with the home leg set for February 25. 

Olympiacos' Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium had been announced to host Arsenal's 'home' leg

Olympiacos’ Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium had been announced to host Arsenal’s ‘home’ leg

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Champions League clash away to Atletico Madrid will now take place in Bucharest.

UEFA confirmed it has moved the match due to coronavirus travel concerns, with the last-16 first leg now to be staged at the Arena Nationala in the Romanian capital.

The UK is implementing strict coronavirus quarantine rules around people returning from Spain, forcing Chelsea’s trip to Atletico to be moved to a neutral venue.