By ROB HARRIS
AP Global Soccer Writer
Most international soccer might not be played until 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions and the need to give club competitions the chance to resume, a FIFA vice president said Monday.
Victor Montagliani, a Canadian who is president of the governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, has been heading a FIFA working group formulating plans to deal with the implications of the world’s biggest sport being largely shut down since last month.
FIFA already has called off matches between countries that were due to be played in March and June. Montagliani, CONCACAF’s president, believes the September, October and November windows for national team matches could be scrapped.
“I personally think that might be a bit of a challenge, not so much because of just the health issues around the world and the various degrees of preparedness, but also committing to international travel as soon as we come back,” Montagliani said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think that domestic football is a priority. September is still in the books, but I would garner to say that I’m not sure it’s there on solid ground the way things are trending right now.”
The return of fans into packed stadiums could be dependent on a vaccine for the COVID-19 disease being ready — and that might not be until 2021.
“If we get the green light to play a football match. I highly doubt that first football match will be with fans. I just can’t see that. I think that would be taken a massive risk,” he said in a video interview from Vancouver, British Columbia“I’m pretty sure it’ll be a phased in approach, just like the rest of society is going to be is then in terms of us trying to get back to normal here.”
A full resumption of soccer in 2020 might not be possible in parts of the world hardest hit by the pandemic, including Europe and North America.
“If you take that across international boundaries, that’s a significant issue,” Montagliani said. “And so, yes absolutely, there’s always that possibility.”
CONCACAF’s hexagonal that determines the region’s three direct qualifiers is to start in the fall with each nation playing two games each in September, October and November. The United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras and either El Salvador or Canada will compete.
Scheduling will be discussed further by a working group featuring the six confederations.
“I’m fairly confident the March window in 2021 will be fine,” Montagliani said. “The priority is to help our national leagues … then look at our events.”
The qualifying format for the World Cup in Qatar might have to be curtailed with the time frame tightening to play matches to reach the tournament that starts in November 2022.
“We’re likely going to be having to seriously look at reformatting some of our events,” Montagliani said. “We’re committed to our final four (in the Nations League). But we have other events that we have to probably look at reformatting, whether it’s some of our youth competitions, even our World Cup qualifying, where we’re going to have to, in the balance of probabilities, look at how that would work in a situation where the calendar there is now less than what we expected it to be.”
Montagliani maintains that CONCACAF is in a good financial situation to cope with the disruption to the match calendar.
“A lot of the things we can recoup over time. We don’t have fixtures every weekend like a league does,” he said. “But I think where the financial impact is going to happen in CONCACAF is within the stakeholders, within the leagues and the clubs. That’s where I think the biggest financial impact is going to be.”
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