It can be generally agreed that following decades of football evolving from its 19th century origin days in Britain to the multi-million dollar empire it currently is, club football competitions now dominate the international football calendar. However, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) creates periodic exclusive windows for national football teams to play games via the International Window. This ensures that the relevance of international football between representative teams of national associations, which used to be the Holy Grail of football, is continually preserved.
An International Window is defined as a period of nine days starting on a Monday morning and ending on Tuesday night the following week (subject to temporary exceptions), which is reserved for national teams’ activities. FIFA usually publishes the International Match Calendar for a period of between four and eight years after consultation with the relevant stakeholders. The International Match Calendar will include all International Windows available for the relevant period.
Many football fans will recall the President of the Italian football club S.S.C. Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, throwing a tantrum a few months ago about no longer engaging the services of footballers who represent African nations, in view of the regular clash in calendar between the biennial African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament and important matches of the European Football season. He reiterated his stance by threatening that he would only sign African players who agree to a clause in their contract prohibiting them from participating in the AFCON. However, what many do not know is that this was just an empty threat by the Naples executive, and any Sports Lawyer worth his/her salt would not include such clause in a football services contract. Where such clause is inserted in a contract, it would be null and void.
With international football matches returning to our screens last week for the first time since Argentina won the FIFA World Cup 2022, club football matches were halted about 2-3 days before the first round of international matches kicked off in the midweek of the week beginning on March 20, 2023. This is in line with the provisions of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (“FSTP”), the last edition of which was published and released in October 2022.
The FSTP mandates football clubs to release their registered players to the national team of a country for which the player is eligible to play on the basis of her nationality if they are called up by the association concerned and prohibits any agreement between a player and his club to the contrary. It is observed that in International Window weeks, elite club football matches are not played on Monday night as is usually done in most other weeks. This is because players must be released and start the travel to join their national team no later than Monday morning of the International Window week.
It is mandatory that players be released for all International Windows listed in the International Match Calendar as well as for the final competitions of the FIFA World Cup, the FIFA Confederations Cup and each confederation’s periodic “A” grade championships.
On the flip side, to also protect the interests of football clubs who in most cases pay the bulk of wages earned by players, FIFA limits the number of matches that may be played during any international window to a maximum of two matches by each national team (subject to temporary exceptions), irrespective of whether the matches are qualifying matches for an international tournament or friendlies. These matches can be scheduled any day as from Wednesday during the International Window week, provided that a minimum of two full calendar days are left between two matches (e.g. Thursday/Sunday or Saturday/Tuesday).
As a further step to protecting the interests of football clubs, FIFA aims to reduce the total distance travelled by football players during the International Window. Thus, national teams are required to play the two matches within an International Window on the territory of the same confederation, with the only exception being intercontinental play-off matches. Also, if at least one of the two matches is a friendly, they can be played in two different confederations only if the distance between the venues does not exceed a total of five flight hours and two time-zones.
Football clubs are not obliged to release players outside an international window or outside the final competitions included in the international match calendar. Similarly, it is not compulsory to release the same player for more than one “A” representative team final competition per year.
As another means of protecting the interests of football clubs, players must also start the travel back to their club no later than the next Wednesday morning following the end of the international window, subject to temporary exception allowed by FIFA. As regards this particular provision, the clubs and associations concerned may agree a longer period of release or different arrangements. A player resuming duty with their clubs after an International Window must resume no later than 24 hours after the end of the period for which they had to be released, or 48 hours if the national teams’ activities took place in a different confederation to the one in which the player’s club is registered.
Where a player does not resume as stated above, the Players’ Status Chamber of the Football Tribunal may, at the request of the Club:
- a) issue a fine;
- b) reduce the affected player’s period of release for the next International Window; or
- c) ban the association from calling up the player(s) for subsequent national-team activities.
Given the need to protect the economic interests of football clubs in football players while ensuring that international football matches are taken seriously by clubs and players alike, FIFA’s fine balancing act of laying down precise regulations that address the interest of all parties involved is impressive.
 Article 1, para 4, Annexe 1, Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, October 2022
 Article 1, para 1, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 7, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 2, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 4, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 5, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 6, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 7, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 8, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, para 9, Annexe 1, RSTP
 Article 1, paras 10 & 11, Annexe 1, RSTP