GENEVA (AP) — The governing body of South American soccer said Thursday it got assurances from FIFA that European clubs will have to release all players for national team duty when the region’s World Cup qualifying starts in October.
The decision could cause unease at European clubs with prominent South American players. The region is still seeing high COVID-19 infection rates, and some European countries require people arriving from South America to go into quarantine.
South American World Cup qualifying has been on hold since March when the opening games were postponed because of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
Brazil, Argentina and their continental rivals should finally start an 18-round program with games on Oct. 8 and 13. Four days later, European leagues return to action.
It had been unclear if FIFA would uphold rules obliging clubs to release players — including Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar — for scheduled international breaks if it put them in conflict with public health rules on returning from South America.
FIFA offered some temporary exemptions to clubs ahead of Europe’s national teams playing two games in September, when South America and other continents postponed their matches.
CONMEBOL, the South American soccer confederation, said Thursday that FIFA president Gianni Infantino told its members they will be able to call up their players from all parts of the world.
“FIFA will have the health protocols for qualifiers next week,” Infantino said, according to CONMEBOL. “There will be no surprises in them.”
Clubs affected by the decision with multiple South American players include Barcelona, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City and PSG.
The European Club Association representing most top teams declined to comment on the issue Thursday.
Last month, the ECA and the FIFPro network of players’ union drafted guidelines to help protect players through a congested program of games, some postponed from last season, in a season already delayed by the pandemic.
The guidelines included: “Protections against travel to and through regions with higher safety risks due to COVID-19.”
European soccer body UEFA urged its member federations to ask national authorities for player exemptions from some travel and quarantine limits.
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