ZURICH: The world players' union FIFPRO says it is time to stop matches being played in extreme heat after seeing some of its members struggle in torrid conditions at the African Nations Cup and in Spain's La Liga during the summer.
FIFPRO, already concerned at the possibility of 2026 World Cup matches being played in suffocating conditions in cities such as Atlanta and Dallas, has asked FIFA to stipulate a temperature limit at which matches would have to be postponed.
"We would like to have this cut-off point above which the match does not go ahead, and it doesn't matter if it is the World Cup final or a league match," FIFPRO medical officer Vincent Gouttebarge told Reuters. "It should be postponed."
FIFA says its guidelines allow for cooling breaks in the 25th and 70th minute of matches when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), a combination of factors including air temperature, humidity, sun direction, cloud cover and stadium location, exceeds 32 Celsius, or 28 Celsius for under-20s and lower categories.
However, FIFPRO said it would like to see cooling breaks at 28 Celsius and no play at all if the WBGT exceeds 32 Celsius.
"The guidelines do not do enough to protect the health of the players and allow them to perform at their best," said Gouttebarge.
FIFPRO was particularly concerned by some Spanish league matches played at midday in late August and African Nations Cup games in Egypt in June and July.
"Some matches were scheduled to be played in the sun where there was an air temperature of 34/35 Celsius and the humidity was over 50 percent," he said, adding that FIFPRO also gets complaints from players in North and South America over midday kickoffs in hot, humid conditions.
Gouttebarge said it also a matter of allowing players to perform at their best.
"It's crazy to give employees this kind of bad environment because they cannot perform to their optimal level and this is also not fair on the spectators who want to see the players at their best," he said.
Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, has developed cooling technology for its stadiums although it will not be needed after FIFA switched the tournament from the traditional June/July slot to November/December.
The 2026 World Cup will be jointly hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico and candidate cities include Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas and Houston and others which are notoriously hot and humid in summer.
"There are those cities where the air temperature can reach very high level and the humidity is also a problem, so yes it is a concern," he said. The U.S. soccer federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gouttebarge said that federations should allow for the possibility of postponing matches at short notice when selling broadcasting rights.
"Governing bodies making this kind of decision should consider the environmental conditions and engage with broadcasters," he said.
He said that, as players cannot digest more than 250 millilitres of water every 20 minutes, that cooling breaks should be short and frequent, in the 15th, 30th, 60th and 75th minutes.
FIFA said in a statement to Reuters that, at 32 Celsius or more on the WBGT, additional drinks breaks may be permitted up to one minute at the discretion of the referee.
"The health of the players is a priority for FIFA," it said.
"FIFA regularly monitors this matter, maintaining constant contact with current and on-going studies and reviewing our protocols, with a view to finding solutions that are applicable across the global football community."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)