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Lo Celso, Romero investigated by Brazilian authorities for COVID violations

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Tottenham Hotspur v Pacos de Ferreira - UEFA Conference League: Play-Offs Leg Two Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

The COVID-related issues involving Tottenham Hotspur players Cuti Romero and Giovani Lo Celso during this international break continue to just get more chaotic and ridiculous. According to the Athletic (£), Spurs’ two Argentinian internationals, currently with Argentina for World Cup qualifiers against the policy of the Premier League, are now being investigated by health officials in Brazil for knowingly omitting travel information upon entering the country from the UK and thus breaking quarantine rules.

Aston Villa’s Emiliano Buendia and Emiliano Martinez, the other two Premier League footballers called up by Argentina, are facing identical charges.

Brazil currently has a statute that requires that anyone arriving into the country from the United Kingdom, South Africa, or India must quarantine for 14 days unless they can provide documentation that they are excepted from the rules. According to the allegations by Anvisa, Brazil’s heath and safety authority, all four players failed to declare that they had been in the UK in the prior 14 days when they arrived in Brazil via a connecting flight from Venezuela, nor did they provide documentation that they are exempt from the Brazilian statute.

In a statement, Anvisa said the following:

‘These players arrived in Brazil on a flight from Caracas. The flight landed in Guarulhos (Sao Paulo). They declared that they had not been in any of the four countries which are restricted for the past 14 days. Anvisa was warned about supposedly false information given by these players.

‘After that, Anvisa sent a notification to CIEVS (institution in charge of Covid-19 restrictions in the state of Sao Paulo). We have to clarify that false information given to Brazilian authorities might be infractions of health laws of the country and might be an infraction of our criminal law.’

Violation of this statute carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison, though most offenses result in a fine.

We don’t know why Lo Celso, Romero, Buendia and Martinez lied in their declaration forms about travel from the UK, but it seems at least plausible to believe they did so at the behest of the Argentina Football Association (AFA), who either assumed they would be exempt from the restrictions or that their declarations wouldn’t be held up to any scrutiny. This, it should be stressed, is speculation.

While the four players appear to be hung out to dry by Anvisa and no doubt did knowingly omit their originating country from their travel declarations, the blame for this whole situation must fall squarely on the shoulders of the AFA. It seems impossible to believe that the federation would not have known about foreign travel restrictions and requirements upon entering Brazil for its international players, and if it did know about the 14 day quarantine for players coming from the UK it is inexcusable that it called these players up, knowing they were also set for a ten day isolation upon their return to the UK.

That same isolation period upon their return is yet another layer to this whole situation. It was previously reported that the four were planning to skip the third and final Argentina World Cup qualifier against Bolivia on September 9 and travel to Croatia, a green-list country, so they could isolate and train by themselves before returning directly to the UK, thus avoiding the mandatory isolation in a government-approved hotel. However, Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni had made comments suggesting that all called-up players were going to stay for all three matches, raising the spectre that Lo Celso and Romero would miss up to four matches, playing one Premier League game before the next international break comes and they would report back to Argentina again.

There are a couple of possibilities of what could happen next. The four UK-based players may miss Sunday night’s match, then be forced into 14 days of quarantine, followed by a return to the UK where they would enter into the mandatory 10 days of isolation. According to the Daily Mail, Brazilian governmental officials have suggested they could be fined and expelled from Brazil, whereupon they could either return directly to the UK (and isolate) or presumably proceed with the “Croatian plan.” Or, they could somehow magically conjure up the necessary documents that say they are exempt from the Brazilian travel statute. But nobody really knows.

This whole situation is colossally stupid. Obviously the players in question should not have knowingly omitted information on their declaration forms, but the AFA should have been aware of this situation from the very beginning and either decided not to call up the Premier League players, or obtained the necessary paperwork to exempt the players from this statute. That they failed to do so makes the AFA look incredibly foolish.

We haven’t heard anything about what Tottenham (or Aston Villa) thinks about what’s happened, but they can’t be happy about this. The clubs were under enormous pressure to let their players, who are all under contract, report for internationals during a pandemic, knowing that doing so would result in them missing matches. The knowledge that doing so has now potentially put the players in danger of breaking international statues must be infuriating.

International football breaks are annoying in the best of circumstances. This, however, is intolerable. Why in the world would clubs allow their players to report for international matches in “red-listed” countries if mismanagement or obfuscation of requirements by the federations allow this to happen? If I’m Aston Villa or Tottenham, I would be seriously considering not letting any of the players report back to Argentina for international duty again until after the pandemic restrictions are fully lifted.

At the moment the status and immediate future of Lo Celso, Romero, Buendia, and Martinez are very much up in the air. Hopefully we’ll have at least some clarity soon.