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FIFA sets conditions for release of players for South American qualifiers

BERN (Reuters) - FIFA has imposed conditions on the release of players for the South American World Cup qualifiers which are due to get under way next week amid concerns over high coronavirus infection rates, travel difficulties and quarantine rules.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Zurich, Switzerland - September 4, 2018. General view of the FIFA logo REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The South American football confederation (CONMEBOL) announced last month that the competition would start in October and that it had FIFA’s approval.

Many of the world’s top players from leading European clubs are involved in the games, including Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Paris St Germain’s Neymar, who have been called up by Argentina and Brazil respectively.

FIFA said on Thursday the usual rules over the release of players would apply but with exceptions.

Soccer’s world ruling body said players must be exempted from any travel or quarantine restrictions, both in the countries where they are due to play matches and in the country where their clubs are based.

If there was a quarantine period of five days or more on arrival in any of those countries, then clubs would not be obliged to release them.

“FIFA together with the confederations and member associations will continue to monitor the situation regarding the travel and quarantine policies of the relevant authorities in relation to the upcoming international matches,” FIFA said.

Nearly all the leading South American players are based abroad, mainly in Europe.

South American countries have routinely been granted exemptions in the last three weeks to allow matches in the Copa Libertadores to go ahead.

European countries have also collaborated so the UEFA competition matches can be played.

However, it was not immediately clear whether European countries would grant exemptions to players returning from matches in South America.

Both Asia and CONCACAF - the North and Central American and Caribbean regions - have postponed qualifiers until March due to COVID.

The South American competition will start on Oct. 8 with three matches - Paraguay v Peru, Uruguay v Chile and Argentina v Ecuador, with Colombia v Venezuela and Brazil v Bolivia one day later. There is another round of matches on Oct. 13.

The global players’ union FIFPRO said last week it had multiple concerns about the games and that players should not be forced to travel if they did not feel safe.

Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond