Covid-19 restrictions may not have barred national sports teams from practising, but the pandemic could potentially have an early impact on the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign of the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Football Team.
The Soca Warriors are due to host Guyana in their opening game on 25 March, under new head coach Terry Fenwick. But a new Fifa ruling, plus the current non-commitment to providing quarantine exemptions for travelling teams, means the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) might be forced to concede home advantage.
At present, the TTFA is being run by a Fifa-appointed normalisation committee headed by businessman Robert Hadad.
Normal Fifa rules require clubs to release players to represent their countries on an international match day. However, as governments have enacted travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine periods to prevent the spread of the virus, Fifa created an exemption that allows clubs to deny their players leave to represent their home teams.
The new rules say clubs must release players except where: ‘there is a mandatory period of quarantine or self-isolation of at least five (5) days upon arrival’ either in the location of the club or the match venue. Clubs can also refuse to release players if there are travel restrictions to or from those locations.
That means if players don’t receive exemptions from travel restrictions and quarantine or self-isolation requirements, their clubs are under no obligation to let them play for their country teams.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the borders are closed to all but nationals, who still must apply for an exemption to enter the country. A returning national then faces a mandatory seven-day quarantine in a state facility, followed by another seven days of self-isolation.
The Warriors only emerged from quarantine yesterday at the Home of Football in Couva, since their international against the United States in Orlando on 31 January, which they lost 7-0.
As a host country, the Fifa rules require the TTFA to get exemptions for its players, the visiting team, and match officials to enter the country and skip any quarantine or self-isolation of more than five days.
With the match against Guyana carded for 25 March, that leaves the TTFA until 11 March to inform Fifa whether the T&T government will grant the necessary exemptions. The UK government, for instance, grants exemptions to certain ‘elite athletes’ to travel and play without quarantine.
The Warriors, who are also scheduled to play away to Puerto Rico on 28 March, could be forced to play their opening ‘home game’ at a neutral venue if the Dr Keith Rowley-led government does not play along.
Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said: “The CMO [chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram] is in contact and in discussions with the football fraternity to deal with that issue.
“We are very concerned about people coming into the country and not quarantining properly and possibly bringing in the new variants… So, the decision would be made in the best interest of protecting the safety of our population.”