The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has accepted a request to delay the release of players involved in the Africa Cup of Nations until just six days before the tournament kicks off.
FIFA regulations had meant that those called up were due to join up with their international squads on Monday, 27 December, which would mean players from leagues that do not have a winter break like the Premier League would miss even more domestic action.
However, CAF has agreed for the player release date to be pushed back until 3 January – six days before AFCON gets underway in Cameroon on 9 January – at the request of domestic leagues. The decision was influenced by the increasing number of Covid-19 cases across Europe.
The delay was confirmed by FIFA secretary general Mattias Grafström in a letter seen by The Associated Press.
“CAF has decided that for those players who have official club matches between the 27 December 2021 and 3 January 2022, the participating member associations in question are to be directed that these players may remain with their clubs to participate in these matches and be released after the last match during this period,” he wrote.
“It has been highlighted to FIFA that this decision is taken in the spirit of goodwill and solidarity with the affected clubs in recognition of the fact that they, like all members of the football community, have been adversely affected by the onset of the COVID pandemic.
“It is also assumed that a spirit of mutual cooperation remain between CAF and all relevant stakeholders in this regard, including related to the release of players and the provision of sporting exemptions to travel and quarantine restrictions if required in the future.”
The decision will be welcomed by the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Liverpool and Watford in the Premier League – all of whom are set to lose key players for the tournament, which finishes on 6 February.