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Covid rule change will let South Americans play in World Cup qualifiers

Posted on Oct 01, 2021

The government is to announce 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 who have not received the Covid-19 vaccine.

Plans would mean returning players would be forced to 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 would otherwise be confined to a hotel room for 10 days.

It is understood the new regulations – which are expected to be announced on Friday – will apply only to players who have had both Covid vaccine jabs. 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.

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The government’s planned 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.

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.

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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.

“The UK government is now open to find a reasonable solution with the three organisations, who are working closely together in a spirit of mutual understanding, in the interests of everyone,” Fifa said in a statement.