The Qatar World Cup, held uniquely in the middle of the European football season, has had a significant and measurable impact on player health, according to a comprehensive study by the insurance group Howden. This groundbreaking research casts a spotlight on the consequences of the tournament’s scheduling on the physical well-being of footballers.
Howden’s European Football Injury Index for the 2022-2023 season reveals a startling trend: players from Europe’s top five leagues experienced an average of eight additional days out due to injuries in the months post-World Cup. Delving into the numbers, the injury duration spiked from an average of 11.35 days in October 2022 (pre-tournament) to a concerning 19.41 days by January 2023.
A deeper analysis indicates a surge in specific types of injuries. Ankle joint injuries saw a 170% increase, while issues with calves and lower legs escalated by 200%, and back injuries rose by 130%.
James Burrows from Howden elaborates that the winter hosting of the World Cup clearly led to an extended injury layoff for players in the latter half of the season, particularly in the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga.
This uptick in injuries has had a tangible financial repercussion, with clubs in the top five leagues witnessing a nearly 30% hike in their investment towards managing these injuries, soaring from €553.62 million to €704.89 million.
The study, encapsulating data on 3,985 injuries across the top five European leagues, aims to provide critical insights into the delicate balance between domestic and international football calendars, and the pressing issue of congested match schedules.
The Premier League and Bundesliga, with 23.6% and 14.8% of their players participating in the World Cup, respectively, were hit hardest in terms of injury rates. A striking observation from the study is the limited effect of Bundesliga’s extended winter break post-World Cup in mitigating injuries.
This research aligns with earlier findings from the international players’ union FIFPRO, which highlighted the extreme physical and mental fatigue players faced during the unusually packed season. The study underscores a growing concern within the football community about the sustainability of current scheduling practices and their impact on player health and performance.