CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers suspended amid COVID-19 outbreak

Football’s world governing body FIFA has confirmed that CONCACAF’s planned qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup have been postponed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CONCACAF’s Hexagonal was set to kick off during the September international window, but a statement issued after a FIFA Council meeting on Thursday (June 25) said that window would be closed for federations outside Europe and South America.

CONCACAF will, therefore, be forced to alter plans in the run-up to the World Cup, including changing the format of the qualification competition.

The decision to alter the match calendars, however, was welcomed by the regional football governing body, which said many of its member associations and their communities continued to face significant challenges due to the spread of the highly contagious virus.

“The rescheduling of competitions, and agreements on new international match dates, provide some encouragement across the football world and enable CONCACAF to progress our planning to resume men’s and women’s international football when it is safe to do so,” CONCACAF said.

It added that it would work with its stakeholders to reorganize the CONCACAF Road to Gold Cup Qualifiers (originally scheduled for March and June 2020), its inaugural Nations League Finals, originally scheduled to be held in Houston and Dallas this month, and a range of other suspended competitions.

Given the elimination of the September window, the football body will be revamping the World Cup qualifying competition, nixing the Hexagonal which would have had to be followed by playoffs in two international windows.

In the Hex, the top six ranked CONCACAF teams based on the FIFA rankings play home-and-away round-robin matches. The top three teams would qualify for the World Cup, and the fourth-placed team would advance to the CONCACAF play-off round.

“The challenges presented by postponements to the football calendar, and the incomplete FIFA rankings cycle in our confederation, means our current World Cup Qualifying process has been compromised and will be changed. We will now work with the new framework provided and liaise with FIFA to finalize a new World Cup Qualification format for the CONCACAF region,” the continental body argued.

FIFA had also announced that the June 2021 window would be extended by seven days for CONCACAF and other federations outside Europe and South America, so they can play four games instead of two.

Meanwhile, in its statement, FIFA announced that its council approved stage three of its US $1.5 billion COVID‑19 Relief Plan which was created to assist the football community amid the pandemic.

In that stage, FIFA will provide national federations with grants and interest-free loans to cope with budget hits.

A universal solidarity grant of US$ 1 million will be made available to all member associations, with an additional grant of US $500,000 allocated specifically to women’s football.

In addition, each confederation will receive a grant of US$ 2 million.

Member associations will also be able to apply for interest-free loans.

Both grants and loans can be directed by member associations to the wider football community in their respective territories, including clubs, players, leagues, or others that have been affected by COVID-19.