Argentina and Brazil announced on Tuesday plans to use World Cup qualifiers next month as test events for the return of football fans to stadiums following Covid-19 enforced bans.
Argentina’s Tourism and Sports Minister Matias Lammens said that a pilot scheme would take place on September 9 for the visit of Bolivia to Buenos Aires at the 70 000 “Monumental stadium with 30 per cent capacity, as a first step to the return of spectators at all large-scale spectacles.”
Meanwhile, Sao Paulo’s sports secretariat said in a statement it would allow 12 000 fans in the 48 000-capacity Neo Quimica Arena in Sao Paulo for the crunch clash with arch-rivals Argentina on 5 September.
However, news from the English Premier League earlier in the day could put a spanner in both plans.
The Premier League announced its clubs would not release players for international matches in countries on Britain’s list of most at-risk places with regards to the coronavirus pandemic.
It means Brazil may have to do without Liverpool’ Fabinho, a midfielder, forward Roberto Firmino and goalie Alisson Becker, Manchester United midfielder Fred and Chelsea centre-back Thiago Silva.
Argentina would be without goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, forward Emiliano Buendia, both of Aston Villa, and Tottenham pair Cristian Romero, a centre-back, and midfielder Giovani Lo Celso.
In Spain, La Liga said on Tuesday evening that it would support clubs that refuse to release players.
With Ecuador and Venezuela still to announce their squads, 25 players from 13 Spanish clubs have already been called up for the South American qualifiers..
The English and Spanish moves do not yet affect star players such as Paris Saint-Germain duo Lionel Messi and Neymar, but it remains to be seen if other European leagues replicate the moves.
Fans were last allowed in stadiums in Argentina and Sao Paulo in March 2020.
More than 110 000 Argentines have died of Covid-19, which has infected more than 5.1 million in the country of 45 million people.
It is one of the worst affected countries in Latin America.
More than 27.3 million people have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine, with 27 per cent of the population fully immunized.
“We believe the (Bolivia match) is an event that deserves this exceptional measure in terms of what it represents. It will allow us to evaluate how the (health) protocols will be implemented,” said Lammens.
Sao Paulo is the worst affected city in Brazil, having registered 36 700 deaths and more than 930 000 cases among its 12 million population.
“Only the presence of fans that present a negative (Covid-19) test taken within 48 hours of the event will be allowed,” said Sao Paulo’s sports secretariat in a statement.
If the test event is successful, Sao Paulo state will allow full stadiums from 1 November, meaning 60 000 people could be present at the Formula One Grand Prix at Interlagos on the weekend of 5-7 November.