Return to Football


5 min. reading time

Although football came to a standstill in early 2020, there was no time to be lost in planning ahead for the moment the game could resume. Players kept fit in isolation, coaches reviewed their tactics, and FIFA led a collective global effort to ensure the safest possible conditions for everyone.

Return to Football – International Match Protocol ­

Keeping pace with the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, FIFA developed a blueprint to ensure the safe return of international football. The Return to Football – International Match Protocol was the result of extensive consultation with the six confederations and stakeholder representatives, and was shared with FIFA’s 211 member associations (MAs) and the confederations.

The FIFA protocol provides important safeguards and measures in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for the health and safety of players and delegates while simultaneously facilitating a return to play. A dedicated FIFA team was established to support the implementation of the required measures and safeguards for all international matches.

The competition regulations for FIFA World Cup 2022™ qualifiers were adapted to reflect the new mandatory measures and the use of up to five substitutes, and several temporary amendments to rules on the release of players in the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players were also made to provide the flexibility and assurance needed for all national teams, clubs and players.

Planning for a safe return

To facilitate the planning of the safe resumption of football activities by competition and match organisers, FIFA worked with WHO, UEFA, FIFPRO and other industry stakeholders to develop a football risk assessment tool. It was distributed to the MAs and confederations together with a set of FIFA medical recommendations established by the FIFA COVID-19 Medical Working Group, WHO and the FIFA Medical Committee.

The aim of the joint effort was to consider the health of everyone taking part in football while taking into account the risk assessments and the factors that needed to be in place in order for football, both at a professional and at an amateur level, to resume safely. The recommendations were designed for implementation in conjunction with international and national guidance on public health and mass gatherings.

Prioritising player welfare

As football restarted, with domestic and continental club competitions being played in a condensed period and in varying weather conditions, it was important to prioritise the welfare of the players. FIFA proposed temporary changes to the Laws of the Game – approved by The International Football Association Board (IFAB) – to allow teams to make up to five substitutions per match in competitions scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Following an in-depth review of the successful impact of the changes, the IFAB Board of Directors extended the option to competitions scheduled to be completed by 31 July 2021 and to international competitions scheduled in July/August 2021.

Professional guidance through regulatory uncertainty ­

Following the publication in April of recommendations and guidelines to address the most urgent football regulatory issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the FIFA administration conducted 13 workshops with more than 350 representatives from its MAs, the confederations, the World Leagues Forum and the European Club Association.

The active consultation process led to the identification of a comprehensive set of frequently asked questions (FAQs). An FAQs document published in June addressed several pertinent questions, particularly in relation to expiring employment contracts (agreements terminating at the end of the season) and new contracts (those already signed and due to commence at the start of the following season), as well as employment agreements that could not be performed as the parties originally anticipated, and transfer windows.

All documents were made publicly available in a dedicated COVID-19 resource centre on FIFA.com.

International match calendars

With ongoing comprehensive consultation by the FIFA-Confederations COVID-19 Working Group with football stakeholders, over the course of the year, the FIFA Council passed a series of amendments to the men’s and women’s international match calendars, adopting a tailor-made and flexible approach for each confederation that reflected the varied circumstances of the pandemic around the globe.

Postponement/ cancellation of FIFA tournaments ­

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competitions scheduled for 2020 were either postponed to 2021 (FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™) or cancelled (FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2020™ and FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2020™). In the latter case, the hosting rights for the 2022 editions were, however, granted to the respective countries that had been due to host the 2020 editions.

FIFA virtual summits

In these very particular times, it is of crucial importance to have a direct and open dialogue with the member associations, in order to assist them in the best way we can.
Gianni Infantino
FIFA President

In July and August, 29 virtual meetings were held with the presidents of FIFA’s MAs, replacing the annual FIFA Executive Football Summits. In total, 205 MAs took part in the meetings, along with the six confederations.

The agenda was primarily focused on the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan, as well as on other decisions taken by FIFA during the coronavirus pandemic to help the world football community at all levels.

Each MA was given the opportunity to provide an update on the current status of health and football in their country, as well as to discuss topics of strategic importance, such as men’s and women’s national team football, club football and grassroots youth football.

The MAs identified the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan as enabling them to not only cover their own financial losses due to the pandemic, but to also support their wider football communities.