Football: European Cup final stays put

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The Independent Online
UEFA, European football's governing body, yesterday lifted its threat to move the European Cup final, on 20 May, away from Amsterdam after the Dutch government stepped in at the last moment to avoid any embarrassment.

"In short, the final of the Champions' League is going ahead in Amsterdam," the Dutch Football Association chairman, Jeu Sprengers, told a hastily arranged news conference.

The impasse concerned the travel arrangements for the teams and supporters of finalists Juventus and Real Madrid. A conflict between the government and Schiphol airport looked like wrecking Amsterdam's chance of hosting Europe's showpiece football event for the first time since 1962.

Noise restrictions at the airport limit the number of flights to 380,000 per year. The airport's slot coordinator said Schiphol's schedule was full, while the transport ministry said it could not permit more flights. In the end, the government yielded.

"The cabinet is of the opinion that this unforeseen circumstance requires a special solution bearing in mind the threat to public order during the final and the fact that an alternative, so soon before 20 May, is not available," the ministry said in a statement.

The government said it would allow up to 90 extra flights, which would fall outside the normal limitations.

"The flights will fall into the same category as those of a friendly head of state or for military operations," it added.

Gerhard Aigner, the secretary general of Uefa, said he was happy with the solution and pleased the government had stepped in.

Aigner wrote to the Dutch FA late on Monday saying the problems were jeopardising Amsterdam's chances of hosting the final. Uefa set a deadline of noon yesterday for a solution.

The threat of moving the final had been a real one, Aigner said. "We had made certain arrangements for alternatives which we don't have to follow up now... My colleagues were working very hard on the matter until just half an hour ago when we told them to stop," he said.

One option ruled out early on was the possibility of a two-legged final in Turin and Madrid.

"We wanted to have a one-match solution," Aigner said.

Uefa had considered moving the match to an earlier time and had also been in talks with venues in London, Paris and Munich, possibly with a Sunday kick-off. The main difficulties were a shortage of hotel accommodation.

Aigner would not be drawn on whether the debacle had affected the Netherlands' chances of hosting another final.

"We all have to learn from this. I think the government will also realise that certain rules that have been introduced may be difficult for the long-term planning of big international events," he said.

Sprengers was adamant the matter was an isolated incident and had no bearing on the capacity of the country to accommodate fans in 2000, when the Netherlands and the Belgians co-host the European Championships.

"This is a one-off event. It is not like a tournament," he said, adding that the FA would be looking at potential problems in the coming months.