A group representing Europe’s top soccer clubs expressed “deep concerns” on Thursday about the health risks to players travelling worldwide in January for national team games like the African Cup of Nations.
The European Club Association’s executive board met in Paris and cited “the worsening public health situation” as the omicron variant of the coronavirus spread.
The group called for talks with FIFA, which manages the calendar for international soccer games and forces the release of players.
Before the pandemic, there were no national team games scheduled in January 2022. But four of soccer’s six continents are now playing catch up with postponed tournaments and World Cup qualifying matches.
The 24-nation African Cup will be held from 9 January – 6 February in Cameroon after a one-year postponement.
Dozens more players based in Europe will also head to North America, South America and Asia for World Cup qualifiers in a new 24 January 24 February window FIFA created to help get games played.
Those make-up dates arrive amid an aggressive new variant of COVID-19 that clubs fear could be brought back by their players.
Tension over virus protocols has seen some European clubs previously refuse to release South American players, and a marquee Brazil-Argentina game became a fiasco within minutes in September when health officials entered the field to remove players.
The ECA said its board will “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 alarmingly.”
The group aims for constructive talks with FIFA at the same time as its more than 240 members are fighting against the world body’s push to win approval for a biennial men’s World Cup.