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Katz chats Prioritise player welfare over profit

BELLA KATZ discusses the consequences that gruelling schedules have across sport, and how organisations need to focus on the wellbeing of those involved rather than how to profit

EARLIER this week, we covered a story about Argentine rugby union coach Mario Ledesma expressing concerns over the mental wellbeing of his team. This marks just one occasion of many where coaches have highlighted the consequences that gruelling schedules, extra fixtures and lack of rest has on their players.

Ledesma’s men finished their autumn European tour with a defeat in Dublin, prompting discussion about the wellbeing of his players: “We’re always talking about player welfare, mental health and then you go two years without playing at home and being in a bubble.

“I challenge any team to do that. It would be a struggle,” he said.

Liverpool’s head coach Jurgen Klopp has been particularly vocal about such issues in the past — earlier this year he publicly criticised the Premier League over Manchester United’s packed fixture schedule, where they had to play three games in five days after their fixture against Klopp’s Reds was postponed due to fan protests.

At the top level of football and during the height of the season, it is not uncommon for teams to play three matches in a week. With European fixtures, international duty, cup games and club fixtures, it is no wonder that players are suffering from mental and physical exhaustion.

Jonas Eidevall, manager of Arsenal Women, recently spoke out calling his team’s schedule “almost inhuman” after Leah Williamson was ruled out for the rest of the year with a hamstring problem.

World players’ union FIFPRO insisted in October that top players need compulsory breaks in order to avoid mental and physical exhaustion, and launched a report that revealed some concerning details about how much pressure the players are really under.

The report found that for players at national team level at the pinnacle of the game, 67 per cent of their minutes in the 2020-21 season were played in the critical zone, up from 61 per cent in the previous two seasons.

Fifpro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said: “The data shows we must release pressure on players at the top end of the game and this report provides new research [on] why we need regulation and enforcement mechanisms to protect players.”

He also gave a cautious welcome to Fifa’s plan to mandate a 25-day rest period in order for players to recuperate after summer tournaments.

Recent talks surrounding proposals for biennial World Cups are nothing short of disgraceful — the workload is enough as it stands. Currently, large organisations are putting profit over the wellbeing of the people, in this case the players. But it is not just players affected, it exists in other aspects of sport too, such as during the lead up to Qatar 2022 and the treatment of migrant workers — working flat out to get stadiums ready in time.

Safeguards need to be put in place to protect players’ physical and mental health. This doesn’t mean that they should have to miss out on important games — but health should be the overwhelming priority, not profit.

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