The president of FIFA has called on Boris Johnson to give footballers due to play games in red list countries during the upcoming international break an exemption from having to quarantine upon their return.
Gianni Infantino’s letter to the prime minister comes after the Premier League announced that clubs would not release players due to take part in matches in nations given a COVID-19 red list designation.
The move will affect almost 60 players from 19 top flight teams who are due to travel to 26 red list countries.
However, the government has told Sky News that concerns over foreign variants mean there is no way the rules can be relaxed for professional footballers.
Clubs in the Spanish top division – La Liga – have also decided not to release players for qualifiers in countries where they would have to quarantine upon their return.
The English Football League – comprising the Championship, League One and League Two – said it would follow the Premier League’s lead, meaning more players will be affected.
Mr Infantino asked for a relaxation of the rules, arguing that the quarantine exemptions that applied for players for the latter stages of Euro 2020 at Wembley could apply for this round of international fixtures.
“We have faced global problems together in the past and must continue to do so in the future,” the FIFA president said.
“The release of players in the upcoming international windows is a matter of great urgency and importance.”
But the government told Sky News the situation was different from Euro 2020, when all the players were contained within specific bubbles and there was less travel involved.
Mr Infantino also called for a “show of solidarity from every member association, every league and every club, to do what is both right and fair for the global game”.
He said: “Many of the best players in the world compete in leagues in England and Spain and we believe these countries also share the responsibility to preserve and protect the sporting integrity of competitions around the world.
“On the issue of quarantine restrictions in England, for players returning from red-list countries, I have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and appealed for the necessary support, in particular, so players are not deprived of the opportunity of representing their countries in qualifying matches for the FIFA World Cup, which is one of the ultimate honours for a professional footballer.
“I have suggested that an approach similar to that adopted by the UK government for the final stages of the Euro 2020 be implemented for the upcoming international matches.
“Together we have shown solidarity and unity in the fight against COVID-19.
“Now, I am urging everyone to ensure the release of international players for the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”
In a statement announcing its decision, the Premier League said “extensive discussions have taken place with both The FA and the Government to find a solution, but due to ongoing public health concerns relating to incoming travellers from red-list countries, no exemption has been granted”.
The league said that players’ “welfare and fitness” would be “significantly impacted”, on top of them missing multiple fixtures for their clubs.
Argentina, Brazil and Egypt are among the nations currently on the UK government’s red list.
The Premier League decision means Liverpool star Mohamed Salah will not be able to play in Egypt’s World Cup qualifier in Cairo against Angola on 2 September – and the Egyptian FA has said Liverpool have already informed them he will not be available.
Brazil host Argentina in a World Cup qualifier at the Maracana on 5 September, but the Premier League’s decision means numerous players will miss that match, and several other big games in South America.
Eight Premier League players were named in the upcoming Brazil squad, with Liverpool trio Alisson Becker, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino joined by Ederson and Gabriel Jesus (both Manchester City), Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Fred (Manchester United), Richarlison (Everton) and Raphinha (Leeds United).
Aston Villa and Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who started in the 1-0 Copa America final win over Brazil last month, will likewise be prevented from playing his nation’s qualifiers.