The unique circumstances of the Qatar World Cup have created an unprecedented risk of injury during the tournament, the international players’ union, Fifpro, has warned.
With the final fixtures in leagues including the Premier League taking place only a week before the tournament, a lack of preparation time will be a key factor in putting players at risk, according to the union. The impact of hot conditions and the accumulated workload of players in an already condensed season are other concerns, with the potential for injuries to disrupt not only the later stages of the World Cup but the remainder of the club season.
“I think the risk [of injury] is higher as is the risk of fatigue over the next four weeks and that players might not be available when the biggest matches are played,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, Fifpro’s general secretary. “I think the probability of that is certainly higher [than in other World Cups]. We might still see an incredible World Cup because players are leaving it all out there and we might see some countries playing miraculous football, but the bigger picture increases the probability of injury and increases the probability of fatigue-limiting performance. That is what the science says.”
Fifpro will next week release a report investigating the impact a mid-season World Cup has had on player workload. Key findings are that players will have only seven days of pre-tournament preparation compared with a previous average of 31, and some players – including those in the Premier League – may have only eight days’ recovery post-tournament before their league season starts again, compared with an average of 37 in past years.
The report also details the overload experienced by top players in European leagues, with Harry Kane having started every competitive fixture for Spurs this season and Kylian Mbappé playing 75% of his minutes in “back-to-back matches”, where players miss out on the recommended five-day break between games.
Darren Burgess, a consultant with Fifpro and a former director of high performance at Arsenal, said the tournament had a greater number of absentees from soft-tissue injuries thanks to insufficient recovery time. He also said there was a “really high risk” of injury in Qatar not only for players who have played a lot of games but also for those – such as Kyle Walker or Harry Maguire – who lack match fitness or are “underloaded”.
“Add the heat in and you’ve got an extra risk,” he said. “The heat of Qatar is something a lot of teams haven’t been exposed to and aren’t used to.”
On the absentees he said: “The number of soft-tissue injuries that have ruled players out of this World Cup is definitely higher because you just don’t have time. Before if someone did their hamstring in the last game of the Premier League season you still had 35 days to restore that injury prior to your first World Cup. You just don’t have that now.”