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Nearly half of national team footballers who play in 50 or more matches per season are being too stretched by their current schedule, according to FIFPro research published ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

In answering a FIFPro survey, 46% of those who said they took part in an average of 50 games or more the last two seasons considered they were playing in “too many” matches.

On average, national team players said they need five weeks of vacation between seasons (not including preseason training) to fully recover; 88% said they want a mid-season break, with an average preference of two weeks.

FIFPro surveyed a total of 543 players between February and April, including those with clubs in some of the biggest European leagues of England, France, Germany and Italy. Of those surveyed, 300 represent their national team.

Based on the survey results and existing sports medical research, FIFPro is calling for FIFA, leagues and clubs to adopt the following international minimum requirements to protect the health of professional footballers:

— Players must have at least 72 hours recovery time between matches*
— Players must have extra recovery time after long international flights
— Players must have a mid-season break of 10 to 14 days
— Players must have an off-season break of 4 to 6 weeks**

*as a general rule, players should have no more than three matches every two weeks
**which does not include preseason training

The survey findings enforce the need for federations, leagues and clubs to pay closer attention to player recovery time, Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge, FIFPro Chief Medical Officer, said.

“Some of the world’s leading players feel they are playing more than their comfort level, which makes them vulnerable to injury.

“It’s important, for example, that all national-team members returning to their clubs after the World Cup in Russia are given enough time to fully recuperate.”

Extra recovery time should be given to footballers after long-haul flights that expose them to jetlag; in the survey, 63% of national-team players said long-distance flights affect their recovery, performance or health.

“The health of players should of course be football’s first priority, ahead of other interests,” Theo van Seggelen, FIFPro General Secretary, said.

“But the reality is many players are coming under extreme pressure to perform at their best in difficult circumstances. We just recently saw many World Cup players being called up to their national team during a FIFA mandatory rest period (May 21-27) and likely they will join their club teams soon after the tournament as well.

“The health and performance capacity of players is not adequately safeguarded in current competition calendars. Together with the other stakeholders we need to urgently set international standards around what we consider are minimum requirements to protect the health of professional footballers and to create a better balance in the international match calendar.”

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