Travel curbs may hit S. American qualifiers

LONDON • This month's 2022 World Cup qualifiers in South America are in serious doubt, with European clubs unlikely to release their players to travel amid concern over the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine restrictions.

Fifa has relaxed its normal rules about player-release for internationals because of the crisis and worries about the impact of long-distance travel to areas with high Covid-19 case rates. As such, Premier League clubs are expected to keep their players at home.

All 10 South American countries feature on the British government's "red list" travel ban, which does not include exemptions for elite athletes.

UK-based footballers who travel to South America will face 10 days in hotel quarantine on return.

That in itself makes it difficult for clubs to consider agreeing to South American football confederation Conmebol's requests.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Manchester United counterpart Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have already threatened to block their players from joining their national teams for the March 25 and March 30 games.

Conmebol is running out of options. Its council met yesterday to discuss the situation and added that it is in contact with Fifa as it searches for a solution.

The global football governing body has yet to make any demands on Conmebol, saying: "Fifa is in ongoing contact with all the confederations and the member associations on this matter.

"We are working and monitoring the situation together and Fifa hasn't made any specific request at this stage. Further information will be provided in due course."

Conmebol is reluctant to play the games without European-based players and has not considered moving the fixtures to "bubbles" in Europe.

Should the games be postponed, it faces a scheduling problem as its continental championship, the Copa America, is set for June in Argentina and Colombia.

With 14 rounds of matches still to be completed in World Cup qualifying, which is due to end next March, there is limited space for the games.

"It is difficult to postpone the Fifa dates, there is no space, you cannot tighten the qualifiers," Ecuador Football Association president Francisco Egas told local station Radio La Red.

"There is strong pressure from European clubs not to give up their players for the qualifiers. Fifa must be in the middle to help get an understanding."

However, Fifa has limited influence as quarantine rules are set by national governments.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2021, with the headline 'Travel curbs may hit S. American qualifiers'. Subscribe