A large percentage of elite-level footballers were already stretched by the match calendar even before the Covid-19 pandemic, with a lack of recovery time between games and insufficient mental and physical rest between seasons. Now, since the restart we are seeing a first spike in injuries because of insufficient preparation time and congested match schedules.
We understand that it is a challenging task to recover matches lost over the past months. The impact of COVID-19 means the match schedule will be even more intense over the next two years. The response must be better and innovative safeguards for player health and not the erosion of the few existing frameworks. It is vital that stakeholders protect players and allow them to perform at their best. This cannot wait until the next calendar is established for post-2024.
Discussions on match calendar reforms so far have disregarded the responsibility to balance the needs of competition organizers with those of players. Leaving players’ workload management to individual decisions will lead to conflicts with their release for national team games, undue pressure on them to go beyond what is healthy and, ultimately, a decrease in the quality of competitions.
In particular, the most urgent safeguards include - but are not limited to - the following.
- Based on medical advice, FIFPRO has advocated for an off-season break of five to six weeks. In this unique situation, at the very least, the minimum contractually-agreed holiday periods need to be respected for the next breaks. In most countries this is at least three weeks. This should be followed by a retraining period to avoid injuries. It is not acceptable that altering competition calendars leads to pressure to breach these rights.
- FIFPRO has advocated for a mandatory mid-season break of between 10 and 14 days. This now becomes more important than ever during what will be a highly-congested match schedule for many players over the next 2 to 3 years
- Individual workload management principles should be established to restrict individuals playing consecutive matches without appropriate recovery times. Research has shown increased injury rates concurrent with less than six days of rest between matches. This match frequency will be the norm in the coming period, so individual load management must be systemized.
- Travel advice and health and safety protocols related to Covid-19 are evolving in different countries and will continue to impact football. Clear standards are needed to prevent any undue pressure or disciplinary measures applied to players who may put their own and families’ health above playing obligations.
In parallel, FIFPRO strongly believes that recent rule amendments such as the increase in the number of substitutions should be extended.
Football is showing innovative decision-making in competition reforms, broadcasting solutions, and more. Now is the time to apply this to player health. No-one should have to risk their health and safety to satisfy commercial or sporting objectives.