FIFA’s international windows normally allow players to return to their home countries for two games, but the pandemic has left FIFA a compressed window to complete qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup, which will open in Qatar next November.
Most of the world’s top leagues and clubs had urged FIFA in a meeting this summer to work with them to find an accommodation to the scheduling crunch, which now will require national teams to play three matches instead of two in each international window.
FIFA ignored those entreaties, though, and added two extra days for qualifying matches in September and October. The clubs, and their leagues, were furious, but they face sanctions if they refuse to release their players.
That appears to be a risk the Premier League teams are willing to take.
“Premier League clubs have always supported their players’ desires to represent their countries — this is a matter of pride for all concerned,” the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, said in a statement supporting the clubs’ decision. “However, clubs have reluctantly but rightly come to the conclusion that it would be entirely unreasonable to release players under these new circumstances.”
The Premier League’s objections are also financial, and competitive. FIFA’s ruling extending the international break will most likely leave clubs in Europe and elsewhere without hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of talent for key early-season games because the new dates — and player travel — would overlap with domestic schedules.
“As a governing body, FIFA should be trying to find the best solution for the entire football community,” the World Leagues Forum, an umbrella organization for about 40 top leagues, said in a statement protesting the decision to add days to the international break. “Instead, FIFA has decided to impose the worst possible option with practically no notice. This poses an obvious governance issue which will have to be addressed.”
FIFA has rejected the appeals of the clubs and the leagues to find a different solution, saying in a statement related directly to the release of South American players that its schedule allows for adequate rest.