How FIFA's International Call-Up Rules Are Being Applied During the Pandemic
The release of professional football players from their clubs to their respective national teams has always been a subject of discussions and disputes, as a result of an already very packed timetable of domestic and various national competitions. The obligation on clubs to release the players to their national teams for international fixtures may not only lead to the players potentially missing some club games, but also being overworked, which can lead to injuries and a prolonged period of absence.
The widespread impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has once again brought the subject of release of players for the international duties to the forefront of debate in football. This debate has become particularly prevalent in the UK in September 2021, in light of the strict quarantine measures imposed by the UK government under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Operator Liability) (England) Regulations 2021 (2021 Covid-19 Regulations) imposed on individuals returning from countries on the UK Government’s “red list”. The 2021 Covid-19 Regulations do not afford any quarantine exemptions to Premier League stars returning from international duty in red list countries, meaning that in September of this year, players who travelled through these nations faced the prospect of missing domestic fixtures for a period of 10 days while in quarantine.
The prospect of losing key players to quarantine following the September 2021 international break proved a step too far for several of the Premier League’s leading clubs, including Liverpool and Manchester City, who refused to sanction the release of their players scheduled to travel to red list countries, including Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Ederson and Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) and Thiago Silva (Chelsea), amongst others. For those teams that did sanction the release of their players, the football world was still subjected to quarantine-related events in crucial matches, including Brazil v Argentina on 5 September 2021. This game was abandoned shortly after kick-off amid chaotic scenes, which involved health officials entering the pitch and delaying the match before forcing the deportation of several Premier League stars, in retaliation for not following Brazil’s Covid-19 protocols. Although FIFA, the national associations and the Premier League clubs settled their respective disputes on this occasion without any of the players being suspended under Annex 1 of the RSTP, the concerns from leading clubs about releasing their players for international fixtures are not likely to abate in the near future, particularly in light of the emergence of the Omicron variant and the prospect of several countries being re-introduced to the UK Government’s “red list”. This article, therefore, aims to help professional football clubs and players to better understand how the international call up rules have been interpreted so far, and how they are likely to be interpreted or changed in the future, in order to help achieve compliance and assist them in avoiding any potential disputes.
The rules for call ups of players to their national teams for international fixtures are governed primarily by Annex 1 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP). Annex 1 of the RSTP sets out the obligations of clubs to release their players for international fixtures and additionally sets out the powers that FIFA holds to take action against clubs who refuse to comply.
This article will discuss the following:
- An overview and interpretation of the RSTP rules in relation to the obligations on clubs to release players for international fixtures, and the disciplinary powers of FIFA should clubs not comply with the RSTP;
- Exceptions to the mandatory obligations for the players to join their national teams when called-up under the RSTP;
- The role and jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in resolving any disputes arising from violations of Annex 1 of the RSTP between players, clubs, national associations and FIFA;
- The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Annex 1 of the RSTP; and
- The ability of players to unilaterally retire or refuse selection to their national teams under Annex 1 of the RSTP.
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Ben Trust is a Partner and co-head of Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP Litigation & Arbitration team based in London. With a strong international perspective, Ben resolves complex disputes for primarily corporate clients and financial institutions. He acts in both an advisory and representative capacity for clients from a diverse range of sectors including, financial services, construction, sports, gaming, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, real estate and energy.
Steven is a commercial litigation partner at Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP with 20 years’ experience in advising domestic and international clients on commercial disputes in the High Court, before arbitration tribunals and the Copyright Tribunal.
Yeva is an associate in the litigation team at Brown Rudnick LLP and is based in the firm’s London office. Prior to joining Brown Rudnick, Yeva was an associate in the litigation and arbitration team at Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP. Yeva holds BSc in International Relations and History from the London School of Economics and Political Science and LPC with MSc in Law and Business from the University of Law. Yeva is originally from Ukraine and is a native Ukrainian and Russian speaker.
Her dispute resolution experience includes High Court litigation, arbitration and asset tracing and recovery cases. She advises clients on general commercial disputes across a wide range of sectors including financial services, technology and sport. Yeva also advises clients on disputes of multi-jurisdictional nature, including bringing civil and criminal proceedings in jurisdictions in both the EU and outside the EU.
Alex is a trainee solicitor in the litigation and arbitration team at Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP, based in the firm's London office. Alex has experience in, and has advised on, several commercial disputes within a range of legal sectors: including reputation management, financial services, contractual disputes and fraud-related claims, for both individuals and corporate clients. Alex is also an active member of the team's sports and e-sports practice group.