Covid rule change lets South Americans play in World Cup qualifiers

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  • Breaks from quarantine permitted for matches and training
  • Rules apply only to those who are double vaccinated

The government has announced new rules to enable players who travel to red zone countries during the international break to play upon their return, but conditions will be stricter for those not fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Returning players who have had both Covid vaccine jabs will enter a quarantine similar to that experienced by Olympic athletes in Tokyo this summer. Allowed to train and play matches from the day of their return, players will otherwise be confined to “bespoke quarantine facilities” for 10 days.

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The move will privately be welcomed by the Premier League. Low levels of vaccination are a common feature among top-flight squads and the league is concerned about the possibility of new restrictions on competition should a winter coronavirus wave occur.

The government’s exemptions will most benefit players from South American countries, with every team currently on the red list. They were developed as a response to the events of the last international window when Premier League clubs were at the centre of international rows regarding quarantine.

A government spokesperson said: “We have worked closely with football authorities to achieve an outcome that balances the interests of both club and country while maintaining the highest levels of public health and safety.

“Our best defence against the virus is vaccination and these new measures will allow fully vaccinated players to fulfil their international duties in the safest, most practical way possible, while allowing them to train and play with their clubs as early as possible upon their return.”

Players who travel must sign a code of conduct which includes restrictions on transport and close contact and protocols on testing, vaccination and bubbles. Those who are fully vaccinated are not obliged to stay in the hotels used by members of the public for quarantining after entering from a red zone country but other players must abide by the usual rules.

In the last international window some clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea simply refused to release their South American players, a decision met by Fifa with the threat of a five-day ban from competing in domestic matches. That threat was never carried out, with national FAs choosing not to implement the sanction, one diplomatic gesture thought to have been made in the hope of enabling the kind of changes to quarantine that have now been agreed.

Certainly there will be hopes that some of the events of the last international window can be avoided, such as when the World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina was brought to a premature end after Brazilian health officials stormed the pitch claiming that Argentina players had failed to confess their presence in the UK over the preceding weeks.

The last window ended with the leaders of Fifa, the Football Association and the Premier League sending a letter to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, seeking to resolve the issue.

(By Paul MacInnes, The Guardian, 01.10.2021)

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