Players fly to World Cup qualifiers despite quarantine gripe
Argentina players Emi Martinez and Emi Buendia face 10 days in hotel quarantine on their return to England after Aston Villa allowed them to fly to South America for World Cup qualifiers, breaking Sunday from the Premier League’s collective decision not to permit travel to red-list countries.
The Spanish league also accepted defeat — for now — in its attempt to block players from going to World Cup qualifiers in South America. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled against La Liga’s complaint that a triple-header of fixtures would end too close to the resumption of its competition next month.
But Britain’s stringent travel rules are the greater issue impeding player release for Premier League clubs. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is yet to grant a request from FIFA President Gianni Infantino to exempt players from mandatory isolation which is required when returning from countries with high coronavirus cases to mitigate against the risk of new variants being brought back.
The Villa duo — goalkeeper Emi Martinez and midfielder Emi Buendia — have agreed to only play in Argentina’s first two World Cup qualifiers against Venezuela and Brazil and skip the game against Bolivia. They still face missing a Premier League match against Chelsea while isolating in a hotel room chosen by the government with no apparent ability to exercise significantly outside.
“There are no easy solutions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to adversely impact professional sport,” Villa said in a statement. “After careful consideration, we think this plan respects the long established call-up rules and balances the importance which top players place on representing their countries in important matches with the best interests of Aston Villa.”
Tottenham manager Nuno Espirito Santo was more vague about whether his players from South America — which is all on the red list — would be allowed to go.
“We have to obey the government law,” Nuno said. “We will try to do so, but at the same time, we don’t have any kind of help from FIFA, the government or the Premier League in support in this situation.”
Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso are also in the Argentina squad and Davinson Sánchez is due to link up with Colombia.
“We know what it means for all of the players to play for their national teams,” Nuno said. “It’s something they’re very proud of, so what we are trying to do is anticipate the situations. So expecting that not only for the next international break, but also there will be a couple more, so we need to be clear. We are trying to take care of that situation. Trying to anticipate the damage. Us as a club, we are working on that.”
The organizations representing European clubs and global leagues have said FIFA was wrong not to extend the ability for players to be exempt from being called up by their countries based on quarantine requirements imposed by countries, as was allowed previously in the pandemic over the last year.
The Spanish league hoped for the backing of CAS.
While world football’s governing body said the “decision confirms the legality of FIFA’s decision,” it was not immediately clear if the CAS ruling was focused only on the admissibility of the case being launched by the Spanish league.
CAS told The Associated Press that “the reasons for the decision are not known yet,” while confirming it dismissed La Liga’s “appeal and urgent request for provisional measures against FIFA.”
FIFA could not immediately provide further clarity.
FIFA extended the international window next month to allow South American teams to play a third World Cup qualifier less than two days before domestic leagues are due to resume in Europe.
The Spanish league said “it will continue with procedures in various judicial bodies since FIFA’s decision on the alteration of the international match calendar transcends this specific problem; it is a clear declaration of intent to infringe on the autonomy of domestic leagues, in an abuse of rights.”
However, La Liga has offered clubs charter flights for affected players and requested that the Spanish football federation postpones fixtures or adjusts kickoff times for games scheduled for immediately after the international break.
“We emphasize that, due to FIFA’s decision, the affected players will rejoin their club teams on Friday after having played three games, and many of them will play league matches on Saturday or Sunday, clearly not being in a position to compete under equal conditions with their clubs,” the Spanish league said in a statement.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.
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