So much has been done by management, football associations, stakeholders, fans, and players in quelling the threat that the coronavirus pandemic poses to the beautiful game. From a complete halt in the game all over the world to having stadiums filled to capacity in some instances, the progress has been staggering. However, despite this quantum leap, international football still suffers from the raging pandemic and in spite of the progress made in the provision of vaccines, countries all over the world still struggle to cope especially with the virus mutating to new variants. In view of the premature end to the match between Argentina and Brazil at the Arena Corinthians and many other complicated situations during this international break, it has become imperative to analyze this problem and search for possible solutions.
The international break poses a different challenge to running a national league or a continental tournament in many respects. For a league or a continental tournament, it is relatively easier to find a system that works with respect to the covid-19 regulations because they occur within the same geographical space. The international break on the other hand involves flights to and from different countries, so it becomes more difficult to operate without flouting regulations or having to make major sacrifices.
Understanding the Problem
Primarily, the problem stems from the incompatible timeframes of the international break and quarantine policies available in many countries. One of the most common models for admitting foreigners into countries is first a 7 – 14-day isolation period and then a series of tests to confirm the covid-19 status of the individual. This model, however, does not work well with the international break which lasts for about two weeks. Simply put, it is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Furthermore, countries refuse the admittance of individuals who have visited red list flagged countries within the previous 14 days. Despite this, FIFA still permits red list countries to partake in and host international matches and World Cup qualifiers, thereby risking the safety of all parties involved and complicating the return of players to their respective clubs in countries that have the 14-day rule for individuals who have been in red list countries.
Therefore, with the regulations in place, some players might require an additional period of 1 – 2 weeks to be available for selection at their clubs depending on the peculiarity of the situation. Now, in a situation where a player requires two weeks to be eligible to play for his club, he then certainly misses two of the three matches, and potentially the third because of lack of proper training, and match fitness.
If the clubs do not release the players, or the players on their own accord refuses to go, FIFA then imposes the 5-day rule which states that players who are have been refused by their clubs to feature in an international match will be ruled out for five days after the international break. The first example of FIFA implementing this is the ban on eight Brazilian players for Matchday 4 of the 2021/2022 English Premier League season.
There should be a meeting between league stakeholders and FIFA on a possible modification of regulations to fit the current climate.
FIFA could postpone matches involving red list countries to some time in the future when the conditions are more favorable.
Alternatively, a system where the top teams from various continental competitions are given tickets to the World Cup might have to be adopted in the nearest future if the pandemic persists.