FIFA rule change may bring Japan back to Copa

FIFA is considering bending the rules to help Japan take part in the Copa America after a quake-tsunami disaster forced them to withdraw from the event, the country’s football chief says.

The March 11 catastrophe has thrown Japan’s J-League into disarray and five rounds of matches which were suspended are now due to be played around the same time as the the July 1-24 Copa America in Argentina.

Under the current rules of world football’s governing body, clubs are not obligated to free up Japanese players for the South American championship because Japan have been invited only as guests.

But FIFA president Sepp Blatter is considering a one-off exceptional measure asking clubs to free up players, Japan Football Association (JFA) president Junji Ogura told Japanese media on Friday after visiting South America.

The measure would apply to Japanese clubs as well as teams in Europe and elsewhere who have Japanese players.

Ogura said that Argentina Football Association president Julio Grondona, who is also a senior FIFA vice president, had asked Japan to reconsider pulling out when they met on Tuesday.

“Grondona knows that European clubs don’t have to release their players, but he called Blatter this morning and Blatter said he would consider changing the rules,” Ogura said, according to Kyodo news agency.

“Grondona knows how many Japanese players are playing in Europe and says if they are needed for the Copa America, then CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) would take responsibility and negotiate their release.

The JFA board is expected to make a decision on the matter at a board meeting next Thursday, he said.

The J-League is opposed to releasing players in July because of its revamped calendar. European clubs may be reluctant to free up players for fear of injury as the summer break is important for them to tune up for the new season.

The JFA has submitted to the CONMEBOL a list of 28 Japanese playing in 14 countries in Europe’s first or second divisions, who may make up the core of the Blue Samurai bound for Argentina, Ogura said.

He added that the JFA would also make a fresh plea to J-League teams to release their best players.