CONMEBOL 2022 World Cup Qualifiers Suspended Due to COVID-19 Concerns

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2021

Conmebol's President Alejandro Dominguez speaks during a re- inauguration ceremony at the headquarters of the South American Football Confederation, known by its acronym CONMEBOL, in Luque, Paraguay, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Jorge Saenz/Associated Press

CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football, announced Saturday it's suspended qualifying matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup scheduled for March because of COVID-19.

The South American Football Confederation's decision was based on travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, which would have made it difficult for European-based players to represent their national teams without a quarantine requirement upon their return to their clubs.

ESPN provided a statement from CONMEBOL:

"The CONMEBOL Council decided to suspend the double date of the Qualifiers for Qatar 2022 scheduled for March. The decision is due to the impossibility of having all the South American players in a timely manner.

"FIFA will analyze the rescheduling of the date, in coordination with CONMEBOL and the member associations. Soon, the different options for holding the matches will be studied."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino was scheduled to meet with CONMEBOL officials Saturday to discuss alternatives for the qualifying matches.

One expected proposal was creating a "bubble" in a European city to play the matches, per ESPN.

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Infantino explained Friday it would be important for clubs to begin releasing players for qualifiers soon because the television revenue is crucial for national teams' financial health.

"Whenever it is possible then, these players taking all the necessary precautions and protocols should be obviously allowed to travel safely, as safely as possible," he said.

Several Premier League managers, including Manchester City's Pep Guardiola, Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp and Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel had scoffed at the idea of allowing players to leave for an international break, according to Kishan Vaghela of the Daily Mail.

"It makes no sense if the players go to the national team and then have to isolate for 10 days when they come back," Guardiola said. "We've worked incredibly hard for eight or nine months. They are not going to fly. If they can come straight back to training they'll fly. We invest a lot of time and money."

South American teams have played four of their scheduled 18 qualifiers—each squad plays one home and one away fixture against each of the other sides. Qualifying is slated to end in March 2022.

CONMEBOL may benefit from the additional time before the World Cup. Next year's event in Qatar is scheduled to start Nov. 21 rather than the typical mid-June start date.