By Andrew Warshaw
August 26 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has personally intervened to try and end the club versus country spat that is seriously undermining next month’s international programme, but his appeal looks unlikely to be granted.
In an unusual move, Infantino has pleaded with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for Covid quarantine exemptions so that Premier League clubs release players for World Cup qualifiers in so-called red-list countries.
The Premier League’s refusal is likely to affect almost 60 players from 19 of the 20 top-flight teams involving 26 red list countries.
Infantino’s plea appears to have already been dismissed with Sky reporting that there is no way the rules can be relaxed for professional footballers.
Clubs in La Liga have also decided not to release players for qualifiers in countries where they would have to quarantine upon their return. The English Football League – comprising the four divisions immediately below the Premier League – said it would follow the Premier League’s lead.
Clubs are required under FIFA rules to release players for international duty and Infantino’s organisation will now have to decide whether to impose sanctions.
He argued in a letter to Johnson that the quarantine exemptions which applied for players for the latter stages of Euro 2020 at Wembley could also apply for the upcoming international fixtures. The difference then, however, was that players were operating within bubbles with far less travel involved.
Infantino called for a “show of solidarity from every member association, every league and every club, to do what is both right and fair for the global game”.
“We have faced global problems together in the past and must continue to do so in the future,” he said.
“The release of players in the upcoming international windows is a matter of great urgency and importance.”
“Many of the best players in the world compete in leagues in England and Spain and we believe these countries also share the responsibility to preserve and protect the sporting integrity of competitions around the world.
“On the issue of quarantine restrictions in England, for players returning from red-list countries, I have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and appealed for the necessary support, in particular, so players are not deprived of the opportunity of representing their countries in qualifying matches for the FIFA World Cup, which is one of the ultimate honours for a professional footballer.
“I have suggested that an approach similar to that adopted by the UK government for the final stages of the Euro 2020 be implemented for the upcoming international matches.
“Together we have shown solidarity and unity in the fight against COVID-19.
“Now, I am urging everyone to ensure the release of international players for the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”
In a statement announcing its decision, the Premier League said that “extensive discussions” had taken place with both The FA and the Government to find a solution but that “due to ongoing public health concerns relating to incoming travellers from red-list countries, no exemption has been granted”.
The league said that its players’ “welfare and fitness” would be “significantly impacted”, as well as them having to miss a number of domestic fixtures for their clubs and that therefore “reluctantly but unanimously” no players would be allowed to go to red-list countries.
Argentina, Brazil and Egypt are among the nations currently on the UK government’s red list. Anyone returning from this category has to isolate for 10 days in a designated hotel.
A spokesperson for the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport told the BBC: “We have made clear to FIFA that our existing policy will remain in place and we have no plans to change that policy. That policy is in place in order to protect public health.”
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