New COVID-19 variant raises concerns among European clubs over AFCON tournament in January 2022

The new COVID-19 Omicron variant has raised a lot of concerns among European clubs who will have to release their African players for the January 2022 African Cup of Nations holding in Cameroon.

Europe’s clubs are now seeking urgent talks with FIFA, as their concerns over player safety at the tournament increases.

Travel bans and gathering restrictions are once again in fashion following the discovery of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, which has been reported to be immune to every vaccine that has currently been developed for the virus.

The African Cup of Nations is slated to hold between January 9 and February 6 2022 and the public health situation globally looks set to present a major challenge before the tournament begins.

Other continental bodies are also looking to resume international games from January 24 January to February 2 2022, presenting even more concern for European clubs.

The United Kingdom has since added 10 more Southern African countries to its travel ban list after the Omicron variant was discovered, a few of which will be participating in the tournament, which raised the concern.

European clubs looking to avoid a repeat of September 2021 events

The European Club Association (ECA), chaired by Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, is understood to be seeking these talks in order to avoid the health and safety issues that arose from the September 2022 international break.

Premier League clubs refused to release players who played for countries on the United Kingdom’s restrictions list because they would have been required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days on their return to the UK.

In trying to find a solution to the issues from the September window, English clubs reached an agreement with FAs of the various nations on the UK’s red list to only release fully vaccinated players for international duty on the basis that they quarantined for 10 days at a club facility, only leaving isolation to train and play.

The agreement received a lot of criticism from managers of English clubs, with Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp saying it was “not a real solution”.

The statement from the ECA board reads: “The board agreed to engage urgently with Fifa to ensure all necessary precautions are in place to protect players and club interests as the health situation continues to deteriorate in an alarming manner.”

ECA says no to FIFA biennial World Cup plans

Elsewhere, the ECA also voiced its “unanimous” opposition to FIFA’s plans for a biennial World Cup, a proposal backed by the Confederation of African Football whose tournament is the current source of worry for the ECA.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino looks to begin the new biennial format from the 2026 World Cup, which will also be expanded to 48 teams.

European clubs dominate the World Cup, with the latest edition in Russia in 2018 featuring 90% European-based players. The ECA is adamant about the biennial World Cup plans and says its position represents over 240 professional clubs in Europe.

The ECA said that FIFA’s new international match calendars for men’s and women’s football must ensure the “right balance” between the club and international game, and take into account the voice of club football and the ECA in any decisions taken.


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