Men's World Cup organizers have requested that players undergo COVID-19 tests every two days while in Qatar for the 2022 tournament, sources familiar with recent guidance distributed to teams told Yahoo Sports.
Players will not have to be vaccinated, nor will they have to quarantine upon arrival, according to the guidance and a Qatari document. And they will not be subject to draconian restrictions on movement like athletes were at the Tokyo or Beijing Olympics in 2021 and earlier this year. But they will be "encouraged" by organizers to wear masks while in crowded areas, and perhaps subject to measures implemented by individual teams to prevent outbreaks.
The every-other-day testing cadence is a recommendation, not a requirement, sources said. It is also subject to change, depending on the state of the pandemic at the time of the World Cup, which begins Nov. 20. But a Qatar Ministry of Public Health document leaves room for the possibility of a testing requirement, and speaks about the arranging of rapid antigen tests at team hotels "when required."
The document also states that a confirmed COVID case will require five days of isolation, with players released on Day 6 if they are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.
The Qatari protocols apply to all World Cup "participants" — including players, coaches, support staff, referees, FIFA officials, media and other accredited personnel. The every-other-day testing recommendation is specifically for players, referees and anybody else affiliated with participating national soccer federations, according to a version of the guidance seen by Yahoo Sports.
All participants will also be required to test negative within 48 hours of their departing flight to Qatar, in line with the Qatar Ministry of Public Health's travel policy.
That policy also applies to fans, Qatar's World Cup organizing committee announced last week. All visitors age 6 or older will need to present evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure, or of a negative antigen test taken within 24 hours of departure. (Self-administered tests won't be valid, per the Qatari policy.)
Fans, though, will not have to continue testing once in Qatar. And they, like players, will not have to quarantine upon arrival.
The testing for players, though, if administered in line with recommendations, will almost surely have an impact on the competition. During the group stage, most teams play once every four days, meaning a positive test would rule a player out for at least one game.
Beyond the five-day isolation requirement, players, teams and federations are responsible for return-to-play decisions, the Qatari government protocol states.
It also says that close contacts of an individual who has tested positive will be tested daily for seven days if unvaccinated, but just one additional time if vaccinated (or if they've contracted and recovered from COVID in the past 18 months). They'll be able to continue training and playing, but will need to take "individual private transportation" to and from venues "until they return a negative test."
If clusters of positive cases are detected, they will go to an expert advisory panel to determine next steps.
Whenever participants are rapid-tested, they "will remain in their own rooms until the result of the COVID-19 test is issued," usually in "around 30 minutes," according to the protocol.
They'll also be required to wear masks while in transit (i.e. on buses), according to the government document. Fans will be required to wear masks when using public transportation.
All visitors will have to download Qatar's EHTERAZ contact tracing app, which will allow them "to enter any public closed indoor spaces" if they don't have COVID.
The World Cup guidance comes amid a gradual but uneven decline in reported COVID cases worldwide. Global case counts have fallen from their 3 million-per-day peak in January, and from slightly over 1 million per day in late July, to less than 500,000 per day over the past two weeks.
But the virus, though now an afterthought for many, is very much still present. Both the guidance to teams and the Qatari government document, therefore, note that the countermeasures are fluid.
"This protocol is based on the current epidemiological status of the pandemic where the number of new cases is receding," the government document, which is dated September 2022, states. But it is "a flexible dynamic document." Measures "may be changed or modified" in line with "new or revised measures issued subsequently" by the Qatari government.