Imagine your beloved team reaches the Champions League final. You have paid for your tickets, booked your flights and hotel. Then the host city is overtaken by civil unrest and the organisers are forced to move the match to another country at two weeks’ notice. Only the new venue is nearly 3,500 miles away…
Now, imagine that this situation happens in a continent much larger than Europe, where the airline networks are not that developed, and the minimum wage is significantly lower than in European capitals.
That’s what is happening in South America after CONMEBOL announced their decision to move the Libertadores final between Flamengo and River Plate from Santiago in Chile, to Monumental Stadium in the Peruvian capital of Lima.
Violent protests at growing levels of inequality have blighted Chile since early October, but until last week the South American Confederation insisted that the Copa Libertadores final would not be affected.
But, as the demonstrators were threatening to make protests on the day of the match and the Chilean government couldn’t give any guarantees of security, CONMEBOL had to step back. On Tuesday, after a meeting with the two finalists’ and local federation presidents, they officially switched the venue of the final to Peru.
This will be the first occasion that the Libertadores final will be played over just one leg, but not the first time that CONMEBOL has faced problems with its organisation. The 2017 final was marred by violence when a group of fans tried to invade the Maracanã before Flamengo’s clash with Independiente.
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And last year the second leg of the final between Argentinian powerhouses Boca Juniors and River Plate was switched to Madrid after the bus carrying the Boca team was attacked by River’s fans on its way to the stadium.
For the final in Santiago, 48,000 tickets were available for the public, with 12,500 reserved for the fans of each of the finalists. The president of CONMEBOL, Alejandro Domínguez, said they will reimburse fans who had already bought their tickets for the match in Santiago. These fans will be given priority for a 72-hour period to buy their tickets for Lima.
But buying a new ticket for the final is far from being the main issue. The Sports Gazzete spoke to Flamengo and River fans who already had everything arranged for the trip to Chile and are now are struggling to change their journey to Peru.
“It’s not CONMEBOL’s fault. The government of Chile assured us they could host the game until last week. But if the game was called off it’s not the fans’ fault either. They should reimburse all of the fans who do not live in Santiago,” said Flamengo supporter Lucas Harduim, who lives in Rio de Janeiro.
Even though the Brazilian airlines have offered discounted fares, Hardium had to pay R$ 3,500 (about £660) just to change his flight tickets to the new city. In terms of accommodation, he will receive just 70% of his deposit from the hotel in Santiago, besides the fees to reserve a new room in Lima.
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“Lots of people can’t afford this and have just given up on going to the final. They are going to miss the match.”
When we first spoke to Hardium he insisted he wasn’t planning on suing CONMEBOL, instead reiterating: “I’m just so glad that I’ll finally have the chance to see my club in a Libertadores final.”
A few hours later, however, upon realising the extra cost he would have to pay, the Flamengo fan changed his mind. “I’ve talked to my lawyer. I wasn’t going to sue CONMEBOL, but I’ve suffered a big loss. This difference should be paid by them, not by me.”
According to consumer protection experts, CONMEBOL is liable and should reimburse or pay the difference to all fans.
Argentinian fans are also struggling. River Plate supporter Ramiro Borda was looking forward to the match after missing out on his team winning the Libertadores last year, as the final was transferred to Madrid. He lives in Buenos Aires and bought a low-cost flight ticket to Mendoza, just 112 miles away from Santiago, and was then planning to cover the remaining distance by bus. Now, the distance between Mendoza and the new host city is 1,513 miles.
“We always get organized early because the economic situation in Argentina is tough and it’s important for us to save some money. That’s why this time I bought bus tickets to Santiago. It was the cheapest and quickest way to go, I wouldn’t miss so many days at work.”
Aside from the ticket to the final, Borda and his friends worked out that they would only have to spend approximately 13.700 pesos argentines in total, less than £200, and would require only three days away from work.
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“When the situation got worse in Chile we started to worry about our security and about the change of city. Then we started to live in this ‘reality show’ full of uncertainty where no one was able to give us any guarantees. When the press started to publish stories about the possibility of Lima hosting the final, all the flight tickets went up,” he added.
“I want to find a way to get reimbursed for all the money I have spent preparing for the trip to Chile. I have to pay a bill to reschedule the flight. I feel sad, it’s painful to realize that not everyone will be able to make it to Lima. The same feelings we had when they took it to Madrid are coming back.”
After deciding to see his team in the final this time, Ramiro searched for cheap flight options and bought one with several connections. He also had to negotiate with his bosses to extend his vacation from three to seven days. However, he still has to find cheap accommodation options in Lima.
“Of course, I intend to sue CONMEBOL. I lost too much money and too much time.”
Will these incidents make the Confederation managers reflect about the reality facing South American fans and lead to second thoughts when scheduling a one-legged final in such a huge and still developing continent?