The current levels of match congestion, extensive travel and reduced off season time in elite men's soccer are detrimental to players' health and careers, global players' union FIFPRO said in a report on Tuesday.
The report, which used a sample of 265 players from 44 leagues between June 2018 and August 2021, found that the number of back-to-back games had increased in the last three years, putting players at greater risk of injury.
FIFPRO defined back-to-back matches as consecutive appearances of a minimum of 45 minutes each, with less than five days of recovery time between them.
National team regulars at the top clubs have the toughest workload, the report said, adding that some players spent 70per cent to 80per cent of their playing time in a two-game-a-week rhythm.
"The data shows we must release pressure on players at the top end of the game and this report provides new research why we need regulation and enforcement mechanisms to protect players," FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffman said.
"These are the type of solutions that must be at the top of the agenda whenever we discuss the development of the match calendar. It's time to make player health and performance a priority."
Long-distance travel demands - despite the decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic - and insufficient rest during and after the season add to the burden on players, with most not getting enough time off, the report said.
FIFPRO recommended that soccer governing bodies enforce a four-week break between seasons and a two-week mid-season break to safeguard players' mental and physical well-being.
The union also suggested a mandatory break for individual players after a specified number of successive games.
FIFPRO last month called for reforms to the international calendar to address the need for a reduced workload for players after soccer's world governing body FIFA announced a feasibility study into making the World Cup a biennial event.
(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)