Covid: Fully vaccinated football players given green light to travel to red-list countries

Nike AerowSculpt balls during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London.
Nike AerowSculpt balls during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London.

The decision has been criticised by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, saying it is 'not a real solution.'

Published

Fully vaccinated players will be able to travel for international duty in red-list countries this month.

A bespoke quarantine exemption has been agreed between the Premier League, the Government and the health authorities which will enable fully vaccinated players to travel and then play for their clubs on their return.

The Government confirmed the plans on Friday afternoon. The agreement was reached after assurances were given that players would be in Covid-secure ‘bubbles’ with their national teams and on return to their clubs.

Arrivals from red-list countries, even those who are double vaccinated, are usually required to quarantine for 10 days in a Government-approved hotel.

It is understood players will not be able to quarantine at home and must instead use a club facility, which they can only leave once a day to train or play.

A Government spokesperson said: “We have worked closely with football authorities to achieve an outcome that balances the interests of both club and country while maintaining the highest levels of public health and safety.

“Our best defence against the virus is vaccination and these new measures will allow fully vaccinated players to fulfil their international duties in the safest, most practical way possible, while allowing them to train and play with their clubs as early as possible upon their return.”

Brazil has already issued call-ups to eight Premier League players, while the president of the Mexican federation, Yon De Luisa, told PA earlier this week it had called up Wolves striker Raul Jimenez, but that the club were still awaiting guidance from the Premier League.

The Covid security measures around red-list players are in addition to existing emergency protocols being operated by Premier League clubs.

Under the new agreement, players would train and play while fulfilling their mandatory 10-day quarantine, and will self-isolate aside from when they are carrying out their professional duties.

Premier League and EFL clubs collectively refused to release players for international duty in red-list countries for the September international break.

It initially appeared that this stance would lead to players being barred from representing their clubs in the five days after the end of the break, after a request was made by four national associations – including Brazil’s – to FIFA to impose an automatic restriction.

However, the request was dropped after what FIFA described as “positive signals and constructive dialogue” with the British Government.

Since then, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a United Nations gathering in New York, where the pair discussed, among other things, “the ongoing co-operation established to support travel during international windows and partnership to ensure equal opportunities for all”.

Mexican FA president De Luisa said earlier this week he was confident of an agreement being reached, and told PA: “We really look forward to (having) the understanding of the Premier League and the British authorities that these are special cases, these are not regular travellers.

“We work tightly with the clubs, not only in Mexico but also with the clubs in Europe, so everybody knows that the health of the players have no risk, or no additional risk, when they come to play with us.”

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says the announcement by the Government is "not a real solution" and believes the Premier League should have fought harder for players.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp believes the Covid protocols which clubs follow are so strict that there should be no need for an exemption in the first place.

“That doesn’t sound to me like a real solution,” he said.

“Brazil and Georgia and other countries are on the red list for England, but for example they are not for France, Germany or Spain. The players there can come back and play immediately. Those countries can send their players, they can come back and have the normal life.

“The players are constantly in bubbles. They are here in a bubble, they are on international duty in a bubble.

“What I really don’t like about it is that I don’t think it is properly thought through. It feels a little bit like somebody in the Government opens the door in an important office and says ‘by the way, we still have to sort the footballers’, and someone says ‘why, what is wrong with them?’.

“They say ‘they are playing in (a) red list (country) and they don’t like the 10-day quarantine hotel’, so they just say ‘let them go in another hotel then’.

“No, no, come on boys! We take people out of normal life for three weeks for no real reason. We take care of our players. They are here, they live with their families, they don’t do anything else.

“They come to training and go home. Now we have to put them in a hotel and deliver their food? It’s just not right.

“I don’t expect the Government to be 100 per cent concerned about the Premier League situation, about the need of specific players. But the Premier League has to fight for our players. That’s not the situation now.”

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said on Friday that Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez and Marvelous Nakamba of Zimbabwe were set to travel for international duty.

“My understanding is at the moment the authorities and the Government are working together to come up with a bespoke sporting agreement where players can go and play and we can actually bring them back and they can play in the game when they come back as well,” the Villa boss said.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

“But obviously, with the safety of everybody as paramount importance because we don’t want any more of this spreading around so I’m hopeful that there will be an agreement in place.”

Villa did reach an agreement to release Martinez and Emiliano Buendia for duty with Argentina last month.

The pair trained in Croatia, a green-list country, before returning to the UK after the last window to avoid having to stay in a quarantine hotel.

Martinez was caught up in the abandonment of his country’s World Cup qualifier against Brazil in Sao Paulo.

Health officials came onto the pitch accusing him, along with Tottenham pair Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso, of breaking Brazilian quarantine rules.

The circumstances around that match are now the subject of a FIFA disciplinary investigation.

Players who are not fully vaccinated can still travel to red list countries but would not be covered by the quarantine exemption on their return, and would therefore either have to stay in a Government-approved hotel or spend 10 days training in a country on the UK Government’s green list.

Wolves boss Bruno Lage confirmed all his club’s players and staff had received both their vaccinations.

Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Bruno Lage
Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Bruno Lage

Lage said he had no problem with any of his players, including Mexico forward Raul Jimenez, heading off on international duty.

“We created a good solution for everyone to go,” Lage said. “We are happy with Raul, he goes and he knows when he comes back he can be available for the games. We have the right solutions.

“Players should play for their countries because it’s a proud moment for them, but also us. We have five or six players to work with and 60 per cent of our players go to international duty.”

It is understood the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been working alongside the Premier League and football clubs to improve vaccine uptake.

Players covered by the exemption will need to adhere to a strict code of conduct, with withdrawal of the exemption one of the sanctions for non-compliance.