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National Soccer Federations are Playing Chess not Checkers

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

The coronavirus pandemic has in many ways tested the regulations of sporting bodies and the Brazil vs Argentina World cup qualifier on 9/5 provided another example of how clubs and countries are struggling to cope.

Just minutes into the Brazil vs Argentina World Cup qualifier in Brazil the unthinkable happened. A group of Brazilian government officials stormed the field to detain four Argentinian players. These players were Emilio Martinez, Emi Buendia, Giovanni Lo Celso and Christian Romero, who are all based in the UK. They were accused by Brazilian health authorities of defying Brazil’s health rules by lying to enter the country. People from the UK are not currently allowed in Brazil and the players entered via a flight from Venezuela. The game would end up being suspended altogether. There is even a chance it will not be replayed. Brazil also had its own player problems. Several of their players based in England simply did not make the trip. The reason actually has nothing to do with Brazil’s health regulations. The English Premier League stopped players from joining up with their national teams if it required traveling to countries on the British government's "red list," which triggers a 10-day hotel quarantine on return.

While the appearance of the government officials on the field created drama and chaos, it is the action of the Premier League to stop players from travelling to play for their country that is of concern here. Due to the Premier League’s action, eight Brazilian players as a result were unable to make the trip to Brazil; these include

  • Ederson, and Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City

  • Fabinho, Alisson, and Firmino of Liverpool

  • Raphinia of Leeds

  • Fred of Manchester United

  • Thiago Silva of Chelsea

A huge uproar erupted in response. These weren’t just any international games, but key World Cup qualifiers in a South American region that is extremely difficult to qualify from. It was surprising that some sort of exception could not be made in this scenario. Fortunately, national federations are not helpless. In full, Annexe 1, Article 5 of FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players states: “A player who has been called up by his association for one of its representative teams is, unless otherwise agreed by the relevant association, not entitled to play for the club with which he is registered during the period for which he has been released or should have been released pursuant to the provisions of this annexe, plus an additional period of five days.”

Several national teams invoked this rule against Premier League clubs. These included the Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Mexican Federations. At the time of the writing of this article, the Mexican FA withdrew their ban request. This allowed Mexican forward Raul Jiminez to be eligible for Wolves this weekend. Also, Fred of Manchester United was not named to the squad for tomorrow's game vs Wolves. It is being widely reported now that some premier league clubs are preparing to defy the ban and play their banned players anyway. If they go ahead with that rumored threat, I would imagine there would be some sort of penalty involved with that.

This move from the federations was brilliant and shows the importance of having a comprehensive set of rules that regulate a sport. Imagine such a rule was not on the books. The national federations would have essentially been powerless and at the mercy of the Premier League. While all the national teams may end up withdrawing their ban requests, it is effectively a threat. It is a threat that should an alternative not be made during the next qualifying window, the Premier League clubs can count on these particular international players not being available for club games commencing after the international break. There is no doubt the league will want to avoid the chaos of the last week as club managers, league officials, plead with federations to withdraw their bans which must have made match preparation a nightmare. Hopefully, all players will end up being available for their clubs this weekend. However, with the importance of World Cup qualifying, I would be surprised if alternative arrangements are not made possible by the next international window.

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