By Daniela Desantis
ASUNCION (Reuters) – The Copa Libertadores final between Flamengo and River Plate has been moved to Lima in Peru from Santiago due to the continuing unrest in the Chilean capital, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said on Tuesday.
The Nov. 23 final was due to be held at the National stadium, but Santiago has been beset by violence over the last few weeks as protests that began over a rise in metro fares have amplified and spread.
Millions have since marched against inequality in what have become the biggest protests seen in Chile since the country’s return to democracy in 1990.
Representatives from both Copa finalists and the Argentine and Brazilian football associations met at continental governing body CONMEBOL’s headquarters for almost five hours before deciding the game will now take place in the Peruvian capital.
“We understand that the most viable option for everyone, and with guarantees from the Peruvian government, is that (the game is played) in Lima,” said Alejandro Dominguez, CONMEBOL’s president.
Dominguez said officials had not yet decided which stadium will host the match.
The decision to move the final to Peru comes six days after Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the country was withdrawing as host of the Nov. 16-17 APEC trade summit and the COP25 climate summit scheduled for Dec 2-13.
The move deals another blow to beleaguered CONMEBOL.
The organisation was last year forced to move the second leg of the Copa final between Argentine rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate to Madrid after River fans attacked the Boca coach as it neared the stadium.
This year’s final is the first to be held at a one-off neutral venue in the tournament’s 60-year history.
Organisers want the Libertadores to more closely resemble the UEFA Champions League, its European equivalent.
However many fans have complained that a one-off final is unfair on a continent the size of South America and robs tens of thousands of fans of the chance to see their team in a final.
Many had already booked flights to the Chilean capital and hotels for the weekend of the match.
This year’s decider is one of the most eagerly awaited in years, pitting Flamengo, who have reached the final for the first time since 1981, against reigning champions River Plate.
In a separate development, the Chilean FA also decided to cancel the national team’s home game against Bolivia on Nov. 15. A second match against Peru in Lima will go ahead but will only feature players who play outside Chile.
The local soccer league programme was halted last month because of the protests and officials said they do not know when the competition will be completed.
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis, writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by Toby Davis/Hugh Lawson/Ken Ferris)