How the English Premier League’s limitation on player travel impacts the 2022 World Cup
Published on: August 31, 2021 07:09 (EAT)
As governments around the world continue to impose restrictions, their trickle-down effects are felt in many industries. While travel and tourism remain the hardest hit, sports across the globe have also felt their fair share of hardships the last year and a half. Although not everywhere is affected evenly. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Canadian border has reopened, allowing many things from leisurely travel to allowing families to visit members working in industries such as the Canadian Football League. However, with 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers moving into the final rounds in September and October, some players will not have the opportunity to play for their national teams. Limitation on Travel Handicaps Many Countries For those unaware, the EPL (and it looks like La Liga may join) will not be releasing some players for World Cup qualifiers in September and potentially October. The first and primary reason behind their decision to ban players from travelling to their national teams is restrictions set by the United Kingdom government. Although the United Kingdom increased the number of countries people can visit without quarantining, most countries are still under restrictions. This means that players travelling to countries such as Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil (to list a few countries) are subject to a 10-day quarantine in a sanctioned hotel upon their return. At first, ten days does not seem like that long of a time. But considering the schedule of some teams, it means players could miss up to four games. Take Mohamed Salah – the star of Liverpool and the Egyptian national team, for example. Egypt has two World Cup qualifying games in September – Angola on September 2 and Gabon on the fifth. If he plays for Egypt and assuming that he is unable to get back to the UK until September 6, he will miss two Liverpool games. One of those games is the first leg of the UEFA Champions League, and the loss of a few players for that game (draw not yet announced) could hurt Liverpool. The issue is more significant for players travelling to play in CONMEBOL countries. Countries in qualifications in this region are playing three matches instead of two. If you are a player on the Argentinian or Brazilian national team and play in the EPL, you stand to miss up to four matches. EPL clubs are also not fans of having their players sit in a hotel for ten days – without the ability to train during the time. It is early in the season, and no access to physical activity for at least ten days (if you consider the length of a flight from Argentina to the UK even longer), could cause concern for teams. Teams may want players to get in a few days of training and physical activity before letting the players back on the pitch. That means up to four games missed for some players. Could FIFA Impose Sanctions to Force the EPL’s Hand? Although FIFA has not openly said anything about sanctioning clubs that do not release players, there is a letter addressed to the South American federation president that states clubs could face action. The issue is challenging for FIFA, which has worked to reschedule World Cup qualifiers over the last year and a half. Clubs will argue that forcing them to release players is not in the best interest of everyone’s health and wellbeing. They will also argue it shows the federation’s continual interest in money over anything. In FIFA’s defence, the competitiveness of the qualifiers could suffer – giving Amber Zone countries an advantage (if they do not travel to a Red Zone for any road games). It will be interesting to see if anything changes for the upcoming games at the start of September. The amount of time may not allow the sides to come to an agreement or reschedule anything. They may work towards a better pact for the next round of qualifiers in October. For now, expect mainly disagreements with the English Premier League not changing their stance on the issue.