Players health at risk in Africa Cup of Nations heat, says footballers union

Serious concerns have been raised about players’ health at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, where temperatures could reach 40C (104F) during some fixtures.

The tournament will take place in the middle of the north African summer and seven of its group stage fixtures are scheduled at 4.30pm, when the searing heat has not yet abated. Fifpro, the global players’ union, is worried that the organisers’ efforts to mitigate for the afternoon sun are insufficient and has requested that the Confederation of African Football (Caf) considers delaying kick-offs if conditions are potentially dangerous.

“We expect the heat and humidity at Afcon 2019 to be extremely challenging for players,” a Fifpro statement read. “We are particularly concerned about the seven group matches scheduled to start at 16:30 local time in Alexandria, Cairo and Suez.

“While we appreciate the tournament organiser has a duty to meet the scheduling of television rights holders, the health and safety of the players must come first.”

On Saturday, the Democratic Republic of the Congo face Uganda in the first of those late-afternoon games. Had it been played on Thursday, the temperature at kick-off would have been 39C (102F). Even allowing for a forecasted drop to 37C (99F) at the weekend, the conditions hardly look conducive to competitive football and hotter weather is expected next week. Ivory Coast, featuring Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, are among the teams who will face a similar issue . Games in Alexandria, which has a more coastal climate, appear less problematic than in the other cities.

Fifa assesses the possible effects of heat stress by using the “wet bulb globe thermometer” (WBGT) measurement – in layman’s terms, the temperature recorded when a thermometer is covered in a water-soaked cloth. When the WBGT, which comes in lower than the air temperature at anything beneath 100% relative humidity, reaches 34 degrees the risk of thermal injury is said to be “extreme” according to Fifa’s guidelines.

Seemingly in response to such concerns, Caf – to which Tunisia are among the participants that have voiced reservations – released the findings of a medical report on its media channel. It calculated that, with an average temperature in June and July of between 35C (95F) and 38C (100F), the high WBGT will be “above 32 degrees”. That runs uncomfortably close to the threshold at which footballers’ safety could be compromised.

Caf said it had accommodated three-minute breaks, with cold drinks and wet towels for players and officials, in the 30th and 75th minutes, as per Fifa recommendations, if necessary. But FifPro, while noting Caf’s advice, believes it should go further.

“We have also suggested in our letter to Caf the possibility of additional breaks in the 15th and 60th minutes based on scientific research,” it said, citing research that shows an athlete such as a professional footballer can ingest and digest a maximum of 200-250ml of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes. There is no indication of whether such additional breaks will be formalised.

The tournament begins at 10pm, local time, on Friday when Egypt face Zimbabwe. The temperature then is likely to be around 28C (82F).


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