Euro 2020 Special

FIFPro does not want another winter World Cup

The union representing football players globally FIFPro has said that it does not want another winter World Cup. And if it were to be a viable option, then there would need to be major changes to scheduling and the football calendar.

They have just published their own report which has examined player workload after the Qatar World Cup, which was staged in November and December to avoid the fierce Middle East heat.

And whilst FIFA President Gianni Infantino has described that World Cup as the best ever in terms of quality of matches, FIFPro is concerned about the long-term impact on players’ welfare.


The 2022 World Cup

There was much controversy about the decision to award the World Cup for 2022 to Qatar, not least because it meant that the tournament for the first time in its history was shifted from its traditional early summer time slot.

This had serious implications for the major leagues across Europe. Not only did they have to be halted for six weeks or more whilst the tournament was staged, but various other scheduling accommodations had to be made.

Seasons started earlier than normal, eroding precious summer breaks for players, whilst the group stages of competitions like the Champions League and the Europa League were all completed within a truncated timeframe.

Players also had minimal preparation time going into the World Cup. And in some cases, they had little time to recover afterwards before they were pressed back into action by their clubs.


FIFA’s view

FIFA’s view is that staging the tournament in the winter produced a better “product” in terms of quality of football. The problem with staging a World Cup at its normal time is that players are often exhausted and jaded after long seasons with their clubs and they’re not able to perform at their best levels.

Playing it in the winter ensured they were fresher and had more energy.

And it may not be the last winter World Cup either. There have been suggestions that Saudi Arabia wants to stage the tournament in 2030, possibly as part of a joint bid with Greece and Egypt. Again, the Middle East weather would mean switching it to the cooler winter months.


FIFPro survey

According to the FIFPro survey, most players would prefer a minimum of 14 days preparation time before a major tournament and anywhere between 14 and 28 days after it.

Already that poses a problem as far as the 2026 World Cup is concerned, with the number of teams competing expanded to 48 for the first time.

With FIFA set to ditch their initial proposal of three-team groups in favour of the more normal four, that means even more games. It looks like preparation time may again be cut.


Increasing workload

Top players find themselves now playing at a high level almost continuously with Manchester United and France defender Raphael Varane comparing it to being like a washing machine that never stops.

Whereas normally they could look forward to a six-week break in the summer at the end of the season, that time has been eroded in non-tournament years by the expansion of tournaments like the Nations League and the new Club World Cup.

And then their clubs will want them to go on lucrative pre-season tours, often to the other side of the world, which will involve them travelling thousands of miles which can add to their fatigue.

Critics may argue that stars are very well remunerated in exchange, but that is missing the point.

Tired players make themselves much more susceptible to injury, and a string of those can seriously affect their teams’ chances of domestic success. Given that they are the primary employers of the players, their voice demands to be heard.

And it can also mean that some of the best players in the world will choose to curtail their international careers in order to look after their own health.  That, in turn, would devalue competitions like World Cups and European Championships in the eyes of the public.

In continually demanding more of players, FIFA and its sister organisations need to take care that they do not kill off the golden goose. The show is nothing without the stars.




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