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Premier League Defies FIFA, Blocks Players From Competing in Looming World Cup Qualifiers

Soccer ball
© Sputnik / Alexey Filippov

The international football governing body earlier ruffled feathers after it chose to not extend a rule that would have allowed clubs to exempt players from representing their home countries in upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The rule was meant as a way to avoid subjecting players to strict quarantine restrictions after concluding the games.

The Premier League announced on Tuesday that English clubs would no longer release any players to participate in international qualifiers since strict quarantine measures upon their return would prevent them from being match-ready for the organization.

Marking the latest strike against the FIFA governing body, the Premier League has stated that the decision would affect any players hailing from one of the 26 nations listed on the UK’s red-listed countries and territories. 

In total, approximately 60 players from 19 Premier League clubs would be affected by the decision, and see themselves effectively barred from participating in any of the World Cup qualifiers set to take place during September and October.

Some of the players affected by the development include Manchester United’s Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani, Everton FC’s Colombian midfielder James Rodríguez, and Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian forward presently on Liverpool's roster. The Reds had also signaled that they would not be releasing Brazilian players Fabinho, Roberto Firmino and Alisson Becker for three of Brazil’s nearing qualifiers.
© AP Photo / Francisco Seco
Uruguay's Edinson Cavani celebrates after he scored the opening goal during the round of 16 match between Uruguay and Portugal at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, June 30, 2018

Cavani took to social media to react to the development, sharing a screenshot of the announcement with a caption that included several question marks.

The league explained in a Tuesday release that their reasoning was partially rooted in the fact that the UK’s preventative COVID-19 measures would see players not be able to prepare for key early season games since they conflicted with the dates for international qualifiers.

“[Players] 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 announcement emphasizes.

The UK government’s red list stipulates that anyone traveling to the UK from the list of flagged countries would be subjected to a 10-day quarantine at an approved hotel, and ordered to take several COVID-19 tests to examine their status. The list presently includes countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt and Uruguay, among other barred nations.

© AP Photo / Matt Dunham
A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of coronavirus waits to cross the street backdropped by "Out of Order" a 1989 red phone box sculpture by British artist David Mach, in Kingston upon Thames, south west, London, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021
“Premier League clubs have always supported their players’ desires to represent their countries – this is a matter of pride for all concerned. However, clubs have reluctantly but rightly come to the conclusion that it would be entirely unreasonable to release players under these new circumstances,” Richard Masters, who serves as the chief executive of the league, said in a statement.

"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."

The development was further exacerbated by FIFA’s decision to extend the September and October international windows in South American by two days as part of a larger effort to catch up on postpones games. Although a potential solution had been for the UK government to allow quarantine exemptions, such a measure has not been considered by officials. 

Spain’s La Liga has also weighed in on the development and offered their support to any clubs that refuse to release their players, according to the New York Times. Similarly, France’s Paris-Saint Germain football club have filed their own protest against FIFA, likely as part of a push stemming from their newly signed player - Argentine football sensation Lionel Messi.

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