What impudence: Premier League won’t release players for red-list internationals

The Egyptian Football Association said on Monday Liverpool would not release Mohamed Salah, left, for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Angola and Gabon due to the quarantine rules [AFP]
The Egyptian Football Association said on Monday Liverpool would not release Mohamed Salah, left, for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Angola and Gabon due to the quarantine rules

English Premier League clubs will not release players for international matches played in so-called “red-list” countries next month.

The League announced on Tuesday a blanket for the September fixtures, amid frustration that players who travelled to red-list countries would have to follow coronavirus quarantine regulations upon their return, ruling them out of several of their club’s matches.

The Egyptian Football Association had said on Monday that Liverpool would not release Mohamed Salah for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Angola and Gabon due to the quarantine rules. It was also reported that Liverpool would refuse to release Fabinho, Roberto Firmino and Alisson Becker for Brazil’s three upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Both Egypt and Brazil are on the UK government’s red list, with “mandatory isolation for 10 days” for travellers returning from those countries. With tension mounting over the club versus country issue, the Premier League took the matter into its own hands.

Like the Liverpool trio, Manchester City stars Ederson and Gabriel Jesus will now not be allowed to play for Brazil. Leeds’ Raphinha, Fred of Manchester United, Everton striker Richarlison and Chelsea’s Thiago Silva were also among the Brazil players affected. Argentina is on the red-list, so Tottenham’s Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso, as well as Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia, will be unable to travel. Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron would have been forced into quarantine if he had played with Paraguay.

“Premier League clubs have today reluctantly but unanimously decided not to release players for international matches played in red-list countries next month,” the Premier League said in a statement on their website. “The clubs’ decision, which is strongly supported by the Premier League, will apply to nearly 60 players from 19 Premier League clubs who are due to travel to 26 red-list countries in the September international window. “This follows FIFA’s current position not to extend its temporary release exception for players required to quarantine on their return from international duty.”

The problem was exacerbated by the recent decision of world governing body FIFA to extend the September and October international windows in South America by two days to catch up on postponed fixtures. A potential solution would have been for the British government to grant quarantine exemptions for players. Discussions were held between football authorities and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport but a relaxation of rules was not considered. The government did not feel it could make allowances for footballers as it seeks to protect public health.

Last season, FIFA granted clubs dispensation not to release players where quarantine was an issue.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters added, “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.”

“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,” he said. The announcement on Tuesday by the world’s richest league highlighted the escalating backlash FIFA is facing across football for its decision to overlook coronavirus-related quarantine requirements and concerns of clubs and leagues to squeeze in more World Cup qualifiers in the coming weeks.

Unlike for other international fixtures during the pandemic, FIFA is no longer allowing exemptions for players to opt out of the trips if they are forced to quarantine on their return to countries to resume club duties. Clubs face FIFA sanctions if they refuse to release players.

FIFA not only organises the World Cup, which generates most of the governing body’s revenue of $6bn in the four-year cycle, but it also regulates the game globally and oversees the international calendar. FIFA did not immediately comment on the Premier League move.

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