Most players prefer World Cup in European summer, union says

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Manchester United's Raphael Varane celebrates at the end of the Europa League playoff second leg soccer match between Manchester United and Barcelona at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. Manchester United won 2-1. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

GENEVA – Most of the players from last year's World Cup do not want the soccer tournament to be held again in November and December, global union FIFPRO said Thursday.

Citing the short preparation and recovery times for players from a World Cup squeezed into the middle of the European club season, FIFPRO said a survey it conducted also highlighted player concern for the physical and mental fatigue they felt in January.

France defender Raphaël Varane's decision to end his national team career last month at the age of 29 was a warning sign, FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said in a briefing.

“I fear he is not going to be the last one if we continue like this,” Baer-Hoffmann said, citing soccer’s increasingly congested playing calendar with new competitions adding more teams and games to existing ones.

The union asked players who were at the World Cup in Qatar when they would prefer future editions to be held. Only 11% said November-December while 64% preferred the traditional slot of June-July. One in four had no preference.

“Interestingly, of the players surveyed who had also participated in previous World Cup tournaments, none of them were in favor of the winter scheduling,” the union’s research document said.

The World Cup dates in Qatar were moved by FIFA in 2015 — because of the oppressive desert heat in June and July — against opposition from European leagues and clubs who did not want to lose lucrative weekend playing slots.

FIFA compromised by creating a 29-day tournament schedule, instead of the usual 32 days, that started only one week after most major European leagues had a full weekend program. Players typically have at least two weeks after their club season to rest and prepare for a World Cup.

After the World Cup final on Dec. 18, the Premier League, including Varane’s Manchester United, resumed only eight days after the France defender played in the championship match against Argentina.

The FIFPRO player survey said 20% of World Cup players who responded said they “felt extremely high levels of mental and emotional fatigue” in January compared to a normal season. “Extreme or increased physical fatigue” in January was reported by 44% of the 64 players who responded, FIFPRO said.

Although the late start to the World Cup in Qatar seemed to be a one-time thing, FIFA was enthusiastic about players arriving fresher for a mid-season tournament. Saudi Arabia is also expected to lead a bid to host either the 2030 or 2034 tournament — an event that also would likely be proposed for the cooler months in Europe.

“Repeating what we had this time (in Qatar) is clearly not acceptable and shouldn’t be a viable option for anybody,” Baer-Hoffmann said of this season's schedule.

FIFPRO believes any future plan to stage a World Cup later in the year must include at least two weeks of preparation time and up to four weeks of post-tournament recovery — requiring a shutdown of European leagues for at least two months.

“I find it unlikely they will agree to that,” Baer-Hoffmann said.

FIFA is currently drafting rules for 2030 World Cup bidders but has not yet said if the tournament will be played in June-July.

The hosting choice is expected in September 2024 and Baer-Hoffmann said the FIFA members should know what they are voting for, with no option to later change the dates like for the 2022 edition in Qatar.

“With the experience different stakeholders had around this unique World Cup,” Baer-Hoffmann said, “I’m pretty sure everybody will pay great attention to that (vote).”


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