With 3,000 players due to travel internationally for World Cup qualifying games next month, FIFA President Gianni Infantino says all of them will conform to health rules in the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will certainly not take any risk for the health of anyone when we play football,” Infantino said in a World Health Organisation news conference.
Delays in the 2022 World Cup qualifying programme in most continents led FIFA last year to create new game dates.
They will help make up the backlog in an increasingly tight schedule with broadcasting rights already sold.
In Asia, 40 national teams, including Australia’s Socceroos, are due on March 25 to resume qualifying groups that last played in November 2019.
A total of 135 teams are due to play World Cup qualifiers next month, and 48 more have preliminary games for the 2022 African Cup of Nations.
“We will see where we can play, in what conditions,” the FIFA leader said, pledging to “do it by adhering to a clear health protocol.”
“We can see and we have been hearing earlier today from Dr Tedros again that the situation is evolving week by week, day by day,” Infantino said, sitting beside WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Many of the players who return home for national duty play for clubs in Europe, including in England which is experiencing an aggressive new variant of COVID-19.
FIFA eased its rules last year that require clubs to release players to national teams.
Exemptions were offered if players had to travel to countries imposing mandatory quarantine or self-isolation for at least five days upon arrival or their return.
The Socceroos’ qualifying road is promising as they top Group B in round two of Asian qualification with a perfect record of 12 points from four matches.
They are due to host Kuwait in March, and have an away clash against Nepal inked in for a few days later but details have yet to be finalised.
Also asked if FIFA expected stadiums to be full when the World Cup finals open in Qatar in November 2022, Infantino said: “Yes. We must have this.”
“COVID will be defeated by then,” he said, at a briefing on FIFA’s latest work with WHO.