Effects of extreme weather on players
The human body maintains a constant core temperature that usually range from 36.1 to 37.8° centigrade. Extreme weather conditions - especially heat and cold - trigger physiological responses that can damage health and performance.
In extreme heat, players are at risk of suffering from heat-stress disorders such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat strokes.
To prevent or mitigate this risk, guidelines relying on the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) should measure the conditions. The WBGT is a composite temperature calculated from several relevant parameters such as air temperature, humidity, sun exposure or wind speed. It is recognized and monitored by FIFA before matches using a special temperature device.
In extreme cold, players can be at risk from injuries to hypothermia to frostbite when their bodies experience excessive heat loss.
FIFA’s position on extreme heat
FIFA’s guidelines on extreme heat are the following. If there is a WGBT of more than 32° Centigrade (89.6 degrees Fahrenheit) cooling breaks are mandatory in both halves of a match, around the 30th minute and 75th minute; the decision on whether to suspend or cancel the match is at the discretion of competition organizers.
FIFPRO’s position on extreme heat
FIFPRO believes that FIFA’s guidelines do not do enough to protect the health and performance of players. We recommend that if there is a WBGT between 28-32°C cooling breaks should take place around the 30th minute and 75th minute. If there is a WBGT of more than 32°C then training and matches should be rescheduled.
Our opinion is based on best practice of respected organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine and Sports Medicine Australia.
Frequency of cooling breaks
It is also worth noting that athletes cannot digest more than 250 milliliters of water every 20 minutes and therefore ideally breaks should be short and frequent, with the option of extra breaks in the 15th and 60th minutes in addition to those in the 30 and 75th minutes.
Recent cases of extreme heat
FIFPRO requested that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) consider delaying afternoon matches at the 2019 African Cup of Nations until the evening because of challenging heat of approaching 40 degrees Centigrade and humidity. CAF went ahead with seven group matches starting at 16:30, recommending that the match referees stop play in the 30th and 75th minutes for cold drinks and wet towels. In some of the matches, this did not happen. During the tournament, Samuel Kalu, a player for Nigeria, was taken to hospital after collapsing in training because of dehydration. In 2019 and 2020, FIFPRO’s affiliated player associations in Colombia and Cyprus raised concerns about domestic league matches going ahead in extreme heat. One of the reasons that afternoon matches were not rescheduled to the evening in these countries was because there was not sufficient lighting, or the electricity costs were considered restrictive.
FIFPRO’s position on extreme cold
There is no specific guidance by FIFA on extreme cold. FIFPRO recommends that training and matches be cancelled and rescheduled when the air temperature is less than -15 degrees Centigrade and when the Wind Chill Temperature is less than -27 degrees Centigrade.