European soccer’s hopes that its showpiece tournament, the Champions League, might run as normal — even as the continent grapples with the second wave of the pandemic — have been damaged by confirmation that at least one game will have to be rearranged because of travel restrictions designed to prevent the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
Liverpool, the reigning English champion, was due to travel to Germany to face RB Leipzig on Feb. 16 in the competition’s first knockout round. On Friday, though, the German government confirmed that it would not offer an exemption for elite sporting events from new legislation — in place until Feb. 17 at the earliest — barring entry to visitors from Britain.
Leipzig is confident that an alternative venue for the game — the first of two, home-and-away legs — can be found, with sites in Budapest; Salzburg, Austria; and even London under consideration. It has until Monday to present the competition’s organizer, UEFA, with a plan, or risk forfeiting the game.
Even if a solution is found, it is unlikely to be the only game affected by the logistical challenge of staging a monthslong, cross-continental competition at a time when international travel is subject to severe restrictions.
Manchester City, the leader of the Premier League in England, is scheduled to play another German team, Borussia Mönchengladbach, the following week; that fixture, too, will have to be relocated if the German government’s measures are extended. Atlético Madrid is also considering alternative venues for its meeting with Chelsea, in case the Spanish authorities decree that a British team cannot enter.
Arsenal’s game with the Portuguese team Benfica, in the second-tier Europa League, is also believed to be under threat because of a British ban on travel to Portugal. Both tournaments resume after a winter hiatus this month, and are not scheduled to reach their conclusions until May.