The Covid club-versus-country crisis escalated today as FIFA President Gianni Infantino revealed he’d written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to relax Britain’s quarantine regulations for footballers selected to play in World Cup qualifiers in red-list countries.
In a statement Infantino said he had "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."
Against FIFA’s instructions Premier League clubs agreed between themselves not to release any players for these matches.
Their unanimous decision followed the British government’s refusal to relax the rules that would require players to self-isolate in a designated hotel on return to the UK and as a result miss two rounds of Premier League fixtures.
There are also UEFA and EFL Cup games during that period. Some of the bigger names affected are Mo Salah, Gabriel Jesus and Alisson who were already unilaterally pulled out by their clubs.
Last night La Liga, the top league in Spain followed the PL’s lead and said it would support clubs who did not release its players called up by nations in South America.
And today the Football League aligned itself directly behind the Premier League, refusing to release players to travel to red-list countries.
FIFA itself wants the UK government to give players exemptions, just like it gave UEFA VIPs and officials arriving from overseas for the semi-finals and final of the Euros at Wembley in July.
But Infantino also said today that the top leagues had a responsibility beyond their own competitions: “I am calling on 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.
"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.”
Squarely behind the English clubs, the PL CEO Richard Masters also cited other related issues and hurled the ball back into FIFA’s court: “Quarantine requirements mean that players’ welfare and fitness will be significantly impacted. We understand the challenges that exist in the international match calendar and remain open to workable solutions.”
Usually if a club refuses to release a player FIFA has the power to ban him from playing for up to five days following the end of the agreed international window but these rules were written without Covid in mind.
A temporary Covid inspired change to FIFA’s regulations giving clubs the power to withdraw their players from internationals expired several months ago.