Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz Arena has been replaced as host of the 2022 EuroLeague Final Four by Belgrade’s Stark Arena, owing to concerns as to how German COVID-19 restrictions would affect fan attendance at the club basketball showpiece.

Mercedes-Benz Arena was due to host the Final Four for the third time after the hosting rights were awarded in July, with Germany also having been set to become the first country to stage consecutive editions of the event following last year’s competition at Lanxess Arena in Cologne.

Initially scheduled for May 27-29, this year’s Final Four was due to follow previous events held at the Berlin arena, back in 2016 and 2009. However, Euroleague Basketball has today (Friday) announced the change in plan with the event heading to Belgrade on May 19 and 21.

Four years after it successfully hosted the 2018 edition, where Real Madrid lifted its 10th continental title by defeating Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, the Serbian capital will once again welcome the Final Four. Belgrade will join Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin and Istanbul as the only cities to host the event more than once this century.

Euroleague Basketball and venue management company AEG, its partner for the 2022 Final Four, agreed to postpone the holding of the event in Berlin based on the current pandemic situation and health measures imposed in the German capital.

Euroleague said the decision was taken with the aim of giving fans the most likely opportunity to attend the event on-site while also guaranteeing the participating players access to the Final Four city. It added that Germany’s health measures, if prolonged, would not allow a large number of fans to attend the Final Four and might even prevent some athletes from participating.

Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball CEO, said: “After much deliberating, we have taken what we consider to be the best decision for our fans and players. Our main goal is to respect the competition’s integrity and reduce uncertainty for all our stakeholders.

“Even while we understand the measures that any government approves to minimise the impact of COVID-19, we could not put the participation of our players in the Final Four at risk. On the other hand, this will be just a postponement and we look forward to returning to Berlin.

“We couldn’t ask for a better alternative now than Belgrade, a city that is automatically identified with basketball. I would like to thank the Serbian government and the Municipality of Belgrade for welcoming us, and we all hope that during the next-to-last weekend of May, the pandemic situation will allow us all to enjoy a thrilling Final Four once again.”

Built in 2004, with a capacity of approximately 15,500 spectators for a Final Four configuration, Stark Arena is the home venue for Belgrade clubs KK Crvena zvezda mts and KK Partizan, as well as the Serbian national team.

Goran Vesic, Deputy Mayor of Belgrade, said: “This is a great victory for Belgrade, a city of sports, where the World Athletics Indoor Championship will be held next month. Belgrade has already hosted the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in 2018, which we believe was the best organised in the history of this competition. We will try to make this year’s tournament an even more successful one.

“The organisation of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four is not only important for the development and affirmation of basketball and sports in general, but also for the promotion of Belgrade as a European tourist destination.

“I am very proud to welcome all basketball fans who will land in Belgrade to witness such an important event, as we will have the opportunity to show them the true meaning of our main message ‘Visit Belgrade’.”

Image: Stark Arena/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size