With 3,000 soccer players due to travel internationally for World Cup qualifying games next month, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said yesterday [Macau time] all will conform to health rules in the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will certainly not take any risk for the health of anyone when we play football,” Infantino said in a World Health Organization news conference.
Delays in the 2022 World Cup qualifying program in most continents led FIFA last year to create new games dates next January. They will help make up the backlog in an increasingly tight schedule with broadcasting rights already sold.
In Asia, 40 national teams are due on March 25 to resume qualifying groups that last played in November 2019.
A total of 135 teams are due to play World Cup qualifiers next month, and 48 more have preliminary games for the 2022 African Cup of Nations.
“We will see where we can play, in what conditions,” the FIFA leader said, pledging to “do it by adhering to a clear health protocol.”
“We can see and we have been hearing earlier today from Dr. Tedros again that the situation is evolving week by week, day by day,” Infantino said, sitting beside WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Many of the players who return home for national duty play for clubs in Europe, including in England which is experiencing an aggressive new variant of COVID-19.
FIFA eased its rules last year that require clubs to release players to national teams. Exemptions were offered if players had to travel to countries imposing mandatory quarantine or self-isolation for at least five days upon arrival or their return.
Asked if FIFA expected stadiums to be full when the World Cup opens in Qatar in November 2022, Infantino said: “Yes. We must have this.”
“COVID will be defeated by then,” he said, at a briefing on FIFA’s latest work with WHO.
FIFA will use the six-team Club World Cup starting on Thursday in Qatar to promote messages on health safety and fair distribution of vaccines.
Infantino, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee, repeated the Olympic body’s view ahead of the Tokyo Games opening in July that athletes should not get inoculations before key workers.
“We don’t consider football players as a priority group in this respect,” he said. AP
European fans unite to oppose elite Super League plan
A UEFA-recognized soccer fan group united supporters across the continent yesterday to oppose plans by some wealthy clubs for a Super League.
A statement from Football Supporters Europe denounced “an unpopular, illegitimate and dangerous scheme in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of fans” and was signed by about 100 national and team groups, including from the clubs pushing hardest for the project.
“The reasoning behind a closed breakaway league is simple: it allows big clubs to succeed off the pitch even when they fail on it. It is anti-competitive by design,” said the FSE, which UEFA consults with and describes as “one of its key stakeholders.”
Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United have been linked to the latest version of a competition that would include 15 permanent members in a 20-team competition kicking off in the 2022-23 season. They would still play in domestic leagues on weekends.
It would give member clubs at least 18 Super League games compared to a guaranteed six games in the current Champions League format.
“We do not want or need more European games,” the fans said. “And we are tired of paying for the fantasy of ever-increasing wages, transfer fees, and profits, as well as the financial mismanagement of some.”
Debts at Madrid and Barcelona have been revealed to have soared higher to hundreds of millions of dollars during the coronavirus pandemic.
Details of the latest Super League proposal leaked last month as UEFA works with the European Club Association and European Leagues group to finalize reforms of continental club competitions for 2024.
Ongoing secretive talks between a few elite clubs and potential Super League financiers led FIFA and the six continental governing bodies, including UEFA, to warn against the project last month.
Players who take part in a Super League would be banned from representing their national teams at the World Cup and other continental championships for national teams.
UEFA has led talks about its own competitions against a backdrop of clubs’ increasingly dire warnings of their collective loss of expected revenue running to billions of dollars because of the pandemic.
The Super League plan envisions earning 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion) annually from broadcasters and sponsors, shared among 20 clubs though weighted toward a few.
In comparison, UEFA’s expected revenue this season is about 3.2 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for the Champions League and Europa League, which feature 80 teams.
“While reform is needed,” the fans said, “it should not come in the shape of an ultimatum from wealthy clubs seeking to benefit from an unprecedented public health crisis.” AP