Premier League Says It Won’t Release Players for World Cup Qualifiers
The Premier League said Tuesday that its clubs would not release any players for travel to so-called red list countries during soccer’s September …
The Premier League said Tuesday that its clubs would not release any players for travel to so-called red list countries during soccer’s September international break, a brazen rejection of protocol that sets up a significant confrontation with the sport’s governing body, FIFA.
The decision, a reflection of continuing public health concerns amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, will affect roughly 60 players from the 26 countries currently on the British government’s red list. Residents are warned that they “should not travel” to any of the countries on the list, and those who do face either strict quarantine conditions or outright exclusion if they attempt to return to Britain.
The decision to withhold players will affect World Cup qualifying matches for the national teams of more than two dozen countries, including Argentina, Brazil and the rest of South America, and also those from coronavirus hot spots like Egypt, Mexico and Turkey.
The Premier League said its decision was a result of FIFA not extending a rule that had allowed clubs to hold back players if they were required to quarantine upon their return to their clubs. Forcing teams to release players and then quarantine, sometimes for as long as 10 days when they returned, created a situation that affected league play and fair competition, the clubs and the Premier League have argued.
“If required to quarantine on return from red list countries, not only would players’ welfare and fitness be significantly impacted, but they would also be unavailable to prepare for and play in two Premier League match rounds, a UEFA club competition matchday and the third round of the EFL Cup,” the Premier League said in a statement.
Even after those quarantine periods, the clubs said, the players would then need more time to regain match fitness.
FIFA’s international windows normally allow players to return to their home countries for two games, but the pandemic has left FIFA a compressed window to complete qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup, which will open in Qatar next November.
Most of the world’s top leagues and clubs had urged FIFA in a meeting this summer to work with them to find an accommodation to the scheduling crunch, which now will require national teams to play three matches instead of two in each international window.
FIFA ignored those entreaties, though, and added two extra days for qualifying matches in September and October. The clubs, and their leagues, were furious, but they face sanctions if they refuse to release their players.
That appears to be a risk the Premier League teams are willing to take.
“Premier League clubs have always supported their players’ desires to represent their countries — this is a matter of pride for all concerned,” the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, said in a statement supporting the clubs’ decision. “However, clubs have reluctantly but rightly come to the conclusion that it would be entirely unreasonable to release players under these new circumstances.”