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Sport

Players union worried about South American qualifiers during COVID-19 crisis

BERN (Reuters) - The global players union FIFPRO has multiple concerns about next month’s World Cup qualifiers in South America, including the high incidence of COVID-19 in the region, travel difficulties and - for those based in Europe - quarantine on their return.

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FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann told Reuters that players should be allowed to decide if they wanted to play without fear of sanctions.

“The players need to be able to make free decisions,” he said. “It’s a region heavily infected by the pandemic and there are certain COVID-19 restrictions and travel warnings.”

While both Asia and CONCACAF - the North and Central American and Caribbean regions - have postponed qualifiers until March, South America will press ahead with the opening two rounds of fixtures in October.

However, borders are closed in several countries - where exceptions would have to agreed with governments for teams to enter - and there are high rates of the pandemic around South America.

Many of the world’s top players are involved, including Lionel Messi and Neymar, who have been called up by Argentina and Brazil respectively.

“I won’t suggest every player may not be willing to play but of course there are players who are concerned about this,” said Baer-Hoffmann.

“We are concerned that players may be in a situation where the health protection of them and their families would come into a collision course (with national team commitments).”

Baer-Hoffmann pointed out that most players would have to travel from Europe, North America or Asia and may face up to 14 days in quarantine on returning to their bases.

Altogether, they could be away from their clubs for nearly four weeks, potentially jeopardising their places in the team.

“What are the turnaround times for testing players? What is the protection and insurance in case players get infected? If they have long-term health problems, who would be responsible for making sure players are taken care of?” he said.

“There are all questions we are figuring out - we understand they are not easy, but they are elements which must be clarified.”

Baer-Hoffmann also urged competition organisers such as UEFA to continue allowing five substitutions per team this season.

“With the match calendar looking the way it does, the benefit of five substitutions outweighs any possible downside,” he said.

“There is also the positive impact of getting fresh legs on the field, while the extra rotation means that younger players are getting a chance in the team, which can help their development.”

Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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