Athletes are at risk of having their careers cut short if soon-to-be free agents face a prolonged period of unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic, warned World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab.

COVID-19 has brought sport to a standstill across the globe, with the 2020 Olympic Games, major European football leagues, the NBA, MLB and NHL postponed.

Euro 2020 and Copa America 2020 have been pushed back to next year amid the fight to combat the spread of the virus, which has claimed more than 21,290 lives.

It remains to be seen when and if the 2019-20 Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 seasons will resume, raising doubts over the futures of football players – whose contracts are due to expire in June.

The likes of Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva (both Paris Saint-Germain), Willian (Chelsea) and Dries Mertens (Napoli) are all set to become free agents.

As clubs and organisations try to reduce costs amid the economic crisis, Schwab – who works for World Players, which brings together 85,000 players across professional sports through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries – told Stats Perform: "The challenge is to ensure enough liquidity during the shutdown so that the same content can be delivered to fans, broadcasters and brands but over a longer period.

"Existing contracts and regulations such as contract expiry dates and transfer windows will all need to be reformulated which can only be done though collective decision-making involving governments, sports bodies, broadcasters, stadia operators, player unions and civil society. The impact on the sporting schedule will be long-lasting and may take several years to return to normal.

"Seasons just starting – such as MLB, AFL and NRL – have a longer struggle in many ways. Shortened seasons are likely, but it all depends on the length of the shutdown, liquidity and the window available to complete seasons. Sports which own their own infrastructure will have greater flexibility and will be in a stronger position to design solutions.

"The key is collective decision-making, goodwill and long-term thinking, all of which can be difficult during such uncertainty. Many key sports governing, commercial and player contracts have 'force majeure' clauses which may apply in these circumstances. Certain parties may be able to 'cut and run', but that will only worsen the bleeding and make recovery more difficult. We need to bunker down, show we care about our people, fight the pandemic, exercise restraint, save as many jobs and legitimate commercial interests as we can, and re-emerge with a renewed, sustainable and collectively developed economic model.

"Tuesday was the anniversary of the death of arguably football’s most influential figure, Johan Cruyff. He famously said that there is advantage in every disadvantage. That thinking is needed right now."

Schwab added: "Individual players will be impacted differently. The destiny of free agents will depend much on the state of the leagues once the shutdown has been lifted. There is a risk that players coming off contract will face a prolonged period of unemployment if the shutdown continues, which can be career ending.

"The top players should be OK during this period, but remember they are a fraction of players and athletes who work professionally. It is likely that the economic impact of the shutdown will result in a deflated labour market for some time, which will suppress wages even among the viable leagues. For leagues outside the very top echelon, it may be a battle for survival.

"However, sport's essential role in society will be unchanged and may even be renewed and elevated. It will have a critical role to play as the community reunites after the pandemic and we expect a major resurgence in demand. Sport is therefore an important part of government planning, and it is pleasing to see that progressive governments in Switzerland, Sweden and some other countries have included sport in the stimulus packages they are announcing. They will reap a community dividend for doing so even as they balance the essential interests of the broader society and economy."

"[Next year] an intense year for sport as current seasons will now run well into the northern summer and that will require a readjusted schedule in 2021," the Australian executive continued. "The postponement of the Olympics may allow for existing concerns to be addressed including the health and safety impacts of the extreme heat of July-August in Tokyo. These issues all need to be worked through. We shouldn't assume the Olympics are simply put back 12 months. We are consulting with our affiliates about how to approach the shaping of the 2021 sports calendar."

Coronavirus has largely affected the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, but Schwab said: "We have been concerned with some of the heath information being conveyed, including that COVID-19 is a disease that mainly affects the elderly and the vulnerable. Athletes, too, are vulnerable, despite being young and fit. The disease attacks the lungs, and athletes themselves have suffered very severe symptoms which may be long-lasting. There have been fatalities among people between 20 and 44 and young people can transmit the virus even if they don't have symptoms.

"Players have also been forced into quarantine when living away from their families. It is necessary that effective support mechanisms are in place to ensure the mental health and social wellbeing of players as well as their physical health. Our player unions play an essential role here."

FIFA has set up a working group to look at the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the transfer of players.

With the majority of leagues across the globe suspended due to the proliferation of COVID-19, UEFA decided to postpone Euro 2020 by a year and CONMEBOL pushed back the Copa America until 2021.

The 2019-20 season could consequently continue into the opening of the transfer window, which for most European countries will be in June, and see players required beyond the expiration of their contracts.

Following a conference call on Wednesday, the bureau of the FIFA council announced amendments to its regulations on transfers will be looked into.

The FIFA-Confederations working group will be responsible for "assessing the need for amendments or temporary dispensations to the FIFA regulations on the status and transfer of players to protect contracts for both players and clubs and adjusting player registration periods". It will also look at issues relating to the competition calendar and whether a potential support fund should be established.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: "This exceptional situation requires exceptional measures and decisions. This crisis impacts the entire world and that is why solutions need to take into account the interests of all stakeholders around the world.

"We have shown again today a spirit of co-operation, solidarity and unity. These must be our key drivers moving forward and I would like to thank all the confederations' presidents for their positive contributions and efforts.

"FIFA will keep in close contact with all stakeholders to assess and take the necessary steps to deal with the variety of issues we are facing. I count on the support of the whole football community moving forward."

It was also announced the European Championship and Copa America were granted slots from June 11 until July 11 in the 2021 international match calendar, with a new date for the revamped Club World Cup to be selected at a later stage.

In addition, FIFA ratified a $10million donation to the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

The 2020 Copa America has been postponed until 2021, CONMEBOL has confirmed.

Argentina and Colombia had been due to stage the tournament this year, but South American football's governing body has opted to delay by 12 months in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new dates for the 2021 Copa America are June 11 to July 11.

It means CONMEBOL taking parallel steps to UEFA, which postponed Euro 2020 until 2021 on Tuesday – a decision the two federations acknowledged had been taken in co-ordination with one another.

A statement issued by CONMEBOL read: "After a detailed analysis of the situation regarding the world and regional evolution of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and of the recommendations made by international organisations in the field of public health to take extreme precautions, CONMEBOL announces the postponement of the 47th edition of the CONMEBOL Copa America to the dates of June 11 to July 11, 2021.

"The confederation, with its president Alejandro Dominguez in charge, along with the 10 presidents of the different member associations, considers that an event of this magnitude deserves that all the attention and effort be focused on its organisation; today's priority is in the background to protect the health and safety of the national teams, fans, the media and host cities."

Dominguez said: "It is an extraordinary measure for an unexpected situation, and therefore responds to the fundamental need to avoid an exponential evolution of the virus; already present in all the countries of the member associations of the confederation."

He said the decision had "not been easy", adding: "But we must safeguard at all times the health of our athletes and of all those who are part of the great family of South American football. Have no doubt that the oldest team tournament in the world will return with renewed strength in 2021, ready to make the continent and the whole world vibrate again with the passion that always characterises us."

Dominguez added: "We also thank UEFA and its president, Aleksander Ceferin, for the joint work and the co-ordinated decision to also postpone Euro 2020 for the benefit of the entire football family."

The tournament format for the next edition of the Copa America will feature a round-robin phase of two six-team groups, preceding quarter-finals.

Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay are in Group A alongside guest participants Australia – although the Socceroos' busy 2021 schedule, which is set to be compounded by a backlog of 2022 World Cup qualifiers, means their participation now appears to be in jeopardy.

Colombia, holders Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and last time's beaten finalists Peru are in Group B, with Qatar returning as an invited team.

Last week, FIFA postponed the scheduled March round of World Cup qualifiers in South America at CONMEBOL's request.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni believes Barcelona captain Lionel Messi is comfortable at the LaLiga champions.

Messi and his future have been the topics of discussion since the Barca superstar's public row with director of football Eric Abidal.

After Abidal suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's sacking in January, Messi snapped back via social media and it raised doubts over his future at Camp Nou.

Scaloni, however, is not concerned about Argentina skipper and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi – who is out of contract at the end of the 2020-21 season.

"I see him [Messi] fine," Scaloni told reporters. "The other day, against Real Betis, he was the best player in the field without scoring. He gave the assist and participated of every chance.

"He's fine, he's comfortable, he will have to decide on his future but I think he's comfortable."

"I'm not worried at all," Scaloni continued. "He's comfortable, he's comfortable at the national team and at Barcelona. Then what will come will come, I stay out of it."

Argentina finished third at the 2019 Copa America but Scaloni's side have another chance to be crowned South American champions as co-hosts of this year's tournament alongside Colombia.

Messi is still seeking his first senior title with Argentina, who were runners-up at the 2014 World Cup before losing in back-to-back Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016.

"I think the important thing is to try [to win the Copa America], that he knows we'll try and be protagonists," Scaloni added. "He [Messi] is not the only one that wants to win something with the national team, we all want to win, the coach, his teammates, so well, we'll try and let's hope we can make it."

Argentina are in Group A (South Zone) for the 2020 Copa America, along with Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and first-time guests Australia.

La Albiceleste will open the tournament against Chile in Buenos Aires on June 12.

Lionel Scaloni hopes the 2020 Copa America is not Lionel Messi's last as he eyes success with Argentina.

Argentina will open next year's tournament against Chile at El Monumental on June 12, it was revealed on Tuesday.

Scaloni hopes 32-year-old Messi, who will again be aiming to win his first senior international trophy, plays beyond the 2020 Copa.

"I don't know if it will be the last. Hopefully not," the Argentina coach told reporters.

"But Argentina need the title, more than just him. Hopefully, don't promise anything, but we'll give the maximum to reach the final."

Argentina, who last won the Copa in 1993, will also face Uruguay, Paraguay, Australia and Bolivia in Group A after their opener against Chile.

Scaloni's men beat Chile in the third-place play-off this year, in a game that saw Messi and Gary Medel sent off.

"It's a nice game to start," he said. "Anyone would have been difficult because the debut is always difficult, but this one has a special feeling.

"Chile has always been difficult for Argentina, especially in recent times. Difficult, but we are fine."

Argentina will open the 2020 Copa America with a blockbuster clash against Chile in Buenos Aires.

In a rematch of this year's third-place play-off, which Argentina won as Lionel Messi and Gary Medel were sent off, the teams will meet again at the El Monumental on June 12 next year.

While the draw took place on Tuesday, the nations already knew almost all of their opponents with teams split into zones for next year's tournament in Argentina and Colombia.

However, Australia – playing at their first Copa America – were drawn into Group A, which features Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay.

Qatar, the other invited nation, will meet Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.

Brazil will go into the tournament as defending champions after their success at home this year.

The top four teams in each group will advance to the quarter-finals.

Group A: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay.
Group B: Colombia, Brazil, Qatar, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru.

Lionel Messi was restored to Argentina's starting XI to face Brazil upon his return from a three-month suspension.

Messi has not played for Argentina since being sent off in the Copa America third-place play-off against Chile in July.

It was the Barcelona superstar's post-match outburst after the semi-final defeat to Brazil that resulted in his suspension, however, as he accused CONMEBOL of corruption and favouring Tite's Copa America hosts.

That earned him a lengthy ban and a $50,000 fine, with Messi missing games against Chile, Mexico, Germany and Ecuador.

But having been included in the squad once again, Messi was straight back into the starting XI for the contest in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Joining him in attack was Lautaro Martinez – passed fit after sustaining a head injury with Inter at the weekend – while Sergio Aguero, who like Messi has not featured for Argentina since the Copa America, was on the bench.

There were few surprises in the Brazil starting XI, with Roberto Firmino, Willian and Gabriel Jesus forming the attack in the absence of the injured Neymar.

Real Madrid winger Rodrygo Goes could earn his first cap from the bench.

 

Brazil captain Thiago Silva is not concerned about coming up against Lionel Messi in Friday's clash with bitter rivals Argentina, rather seeing it as a source of pride to take on the Barcelona superstar.

Messi is back in the Argentina squad for the first time since the Copa America, where Brazil beat Argentina 2-0 in July's semi-final.

After that controversial encounter, Messi accused CONMEBOL of corruption, earning a four-match ban and a $50,000 fine.

Messi is expected to make his return during the friendly clash in Saudi Arabia, and Silva prefers not to look at the situation with fear, instead relishing facing one of the best.

"We are not concerned but proud to have a chance to face him," Silva told reporters on Monday.

"They [Argentina] have their star, we won't have ours [Neymar, who is injured], but Brazil is Brazil, and we showed it during our Copa America win.

"They are living a different moment, as are we when you consider the last few matches. Brazil versus Argentina is always a great game, with great football and scoring chances.

"There's a 50:50 winning chance for each side - let's hope we are more inspired then than they are."

Brazil winger Willian added: "He [Messi] is a great player, unmatched, the best in the world. We've faced Argentina when he played before, and this will be just like those times.

"There must be more attention on him, we must restrict his spaces. We'll not man-mark him, but whoever is around him must close down the spaces, not leave him room to think."

Real Madrid youngster Rodrygo Goes is in line to earn his first senior cap at the tender age of 18 after breaking into the first team at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The wide attacker has already scored five goals in just six matches for Madrid, and Silva has been impressed, even suggesting he hopes Zinedine Zidane leaves the teenager out when Paris Saint-Germain take on the LaLiga giants in the Champions League later this month.

"The fact he's with the Selecao is a unique opportunity, he surely has dreamt about this moment," the PSG defender said of Rodrygo. "I hope he can enjoy it the best way possible.

"I have over 100 caps and every time I'm here, I feel the chills. I hope he has the wisdom to make the most of it.

"It's surprising really to most people, an 18-year-old with loads of personality. You see for the way he scores goals how calm and reserved this kid is, he's not doing it to show off.

"Let's hope Zidane keeps him on the bench! He's a player who'll demand more attention from your side. His quality speaks for itself."

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