Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
ISSN: 1303 - 2968   
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©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2022) 21, 482 - 486   DOI: https://doi.org/10.52082/jssm.2022.482

Letter to editor
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: Solutions to the Physical Fitness Challenge
Hassane Zouhal1 , Benjamin Barthélémy1, Alexandre Dellal4, Sghaeir Zouita6, Abderraouf Ben Abderrahman6, Omar Ben Ounis6, Claire Tourny7, Ali Belamjahad7, Said Ahmaidi8, Thierry Paillard9, Nicolas Dyon5, Benoit Bideau1, Ayoub Saeidi10, Jason Moran11, Anis Chaouachi12, George P. Nassis13, Christopher Carling15, Urs Granacher17, Guillaume Ravé3
Author Information
1 University Rennes, EA 1274, F-35000 Rennes, France
10 Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Kurdistan, Sanandaj, Kurdistan, Iran
11 School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester. Essex, UK
12 Tunisian Research Laboratory “Sports Performance Optimization”, National Center of Medicine and Science in Sports (CNMSS), Tunis, Tunisia
13 Physical Education Department, College of Education, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
14 Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, SDU Sport and Health Sciences Cluster (SHSC), Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
15 Fédération Française de Football, Paris, France
16 Laboratory Sport, Expertise and Performance (EA 7370), French Institute of Sport (INSEP), Paris, France
17 Department of Sport and Sport Science, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
2 Institute International des Sciences du Sport (2I2S), 35850, Irodouer, France
3 Toulouse Football Club (FC Toulouse), Toulouse, France
4 FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence, Centre orthopédique Santé, Lyon, France
5 MyCoach Performance, Nice, France
6 Higher Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Ksar-Said, Tunisia
7 Department of Sport Sciences, University of Rouen, Rouen, France
8 Department of Sport Sciences, University of Amiens-Picardie, Amiens, France
9 Department of Sport Sciences, University of Pays de l’Adour, Tarbes, France

Hassane Zouhal
E-mail:
Email: hassane.zouhal@univ-rennes2.fr
Publish Date
Received: 13-08-2022
Accepted: 23-08-2022
Published (online): 01-09-2022
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Dear Editor-in-chief

In 2022, the FIFA World Cup has been scheduled to take place in Qatar in November and December, months which coincide with the in-season period of the European soccer season. This will be challenging for the staff of the participating national teams and the domestic clubs to which participating players are attached. The aim of this letter to the editor is to propose solutions on how to manage the associated challenges.

Regular training and competition over the course of a season in European professional soccer is generally characterized by a pre-competition preparation period of five to six weeks, followed by two competition phases, interspersed with a winter break (Eliakim et al., 2018). Certain leagues such as the English Premier League do not typically have a winter break meaning that games are played almost continuously across the season. During World Cup years, there is usually an average of four to five weeks between the end of national domestic championships and the start of the World Cup tournament (Table 1, Figure 1) which traditionally takes place during the off-season period.

However, in 2022, the FIFA World Cup has been scheduled to take place in November and December, months which coincide with the in-season period of the European soccer season (Figure 1). With the World Cup being staged during this part of the season, many national team players (notably those in the major European Leagues) will have just one week of preparation between the last match of their domestic leagues and the start of the World Cup tournament (November 20th, 2022). More precisely, the major European soccer leagues will interrupt match schedules between November 9th and 13th with differences in the number of games completed at this time of the season ranging from 14 to 17 across the various leagues (Table 2).

The physical and mental demands placed on modern professional players have steadily risen over recent years due to an increase in the number of matches played during congested periods across the season (Anderson et al., 2016). Since the number of matches is not evenly distributed across the typical 40-week season, players can often compete in as many as three matches in a seven-day period. Aside from the physical and mental demands that are imposed during a match, players might experience insufficient recovery between these games; in part due to extensive travelling which can disrupt the sleep/wake cycle (Lastella et al., 2019). Indeed, poor quality of sleep and the stress induced by a match can negatively affect physical fitness and may even increase the risk of sustaining injuries and/or infections (Clemente et al., 2021) in the period leading up to the World Cup.

National teams are composed of players from different leagues who have varying levels of exposure to match-play (e.g., starters, non-starters) in terms of the average weekly volume of soccer matches at their clubs (“Rapports - Observatoire du football CIES”). Moreover, both starters and non-starters are exposed to different external match and training loads (Anderson et al., 2016). External loads have previously been defined as the overall volume of activity that a player performs during both training sessions and matches (Ravé et al., 2020). There is evidence that this metric correlates with a player’s physical fitness status (Clemente et al., 2019) and their injury risk (Malone et al., 2017). Accordingly, it will be challenging for national teams to manage the fitness of players such that they are physically ready to play at the World Cup tournament. This is especially applicable to individuals who play in the major European leagues and we note a significant contrast between European match schedules and those on other continents. For example, in Major League Soccer (MLS) in North America, match schedules will be interrupted from November 5th, 15 days before the World Cup tournament begins. Similarly, in the Japanese J-League in Asia, Saudi Pro League and Qatar Star League, matches will be interrupted one month before the World Cup tournament begins, leaving more time for players on these continents to prepare.

It is also important to note that the French, Spanish and English domestic championships will resume their match schedules on December 27th which is just ten days after the end of the World Cup (Figure 1). Clubs will clearly want their players to return uninjured and with sufficient fitness levels to resume domestic competition but these goals could be compromised by the aforementioned scheduling of the World Cup tournament.

Recommendations for players’ preparation around the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

Before the World Cup, the goal of national teams and clubs is to prepare their players physically and mentally for the World Cup tournament. This is especially important for the non-starters of a club (Table 3) as it is well-known that a large sudden variation in external load is associated with injury risk (Gabbett, 2016). Moreover, there is evidence that players who sustain non-contact injuries during a national team’s training camp, in preparation for a tournament, undertake lower subsequent training loads at their clubs when compared to the observed loads prior to that national team camp (McCall et al., 2018). In preparation for the World Cup, players who have played extensively for their clubs should focus on active recovery during the initial period of preparation for the tournament. Those players who have had relatively little exposure to competition should progressively increase training load during the national team training camp (Table 3). Club medical staff must take note of any traumatic injuries that players have sustained during the season before the tournament begins and should communicate, whilst respecting local data confidentially regulations, this with international technical staff with the aim of adjusting workload as necessary (Table 3). If this can be achieved, players can effectively transition to their national teams in a way that preserves their condition and serves as a basis for optimal performance at the World Cup.

Following the World Cup, a major challenge for clubs will be to reintegrate their players based on how far their national team has progressed and their level of exposure time during played games. Clubs will have many players who did not participate at the tournament and who will not have stopped training in the meantime. It is also important to consider the different categories of players who will participate at the tournament for example, those who were starters and left the tournament early or late and those who were non-starters and left the tournament early or late. Accordingly, external training loads will vary significantly as players arrive back at their clubs following the group stages and later.

All clubs will have ambitious goals for the end of the 2022/2023 season with both domestic and continental competitions (Champions League, European League, etc.) of high priority. Accordingly, club coaches will want their players to be available for the remainder of the season in full fitness and in optimal health. Additionally, players who are starters for their national team and their club will, in some cases, not have the opportunity for a break between the end of the World Cup and the resumption of the domestic soccer season. Research shows that injury risk is greater in leagues that do not have a winter break (e.g., English Premier League) compared with leagues that do (Ekstrand et al., 2019b). Good communication between club medical and technical staff is essential to reduce injury incidence thereby optimizing the availability of players (Ekstrand et al., 2019a).

Before, during and after the World Cup tournament, intensive communication will be needed between the staff of the national teams and those in the clubs with regard to players’ workloads as it is anticipated that some players may be exposed to physical stress levels that they are not used to. Exchange of information between national and club teams is therefore important to improve international players’ health status (McCall et al., 2022).

External workload management during transitions between club and national teams before and after the World Cup will be crucial. Clubs and national teams use a variety of different external load tracking systems (e.g., global positioning systems and video tracking) and the quantification of this metric differs between teams (Jackson et al., 2018). Moreover, the scientific literature does not provide a consensus on acceleration and velocity thresholds during match play (Sweeting et al., 2017). Consequently, the characterization of external loads will vary between national teams and clubs. Given these barriers, it is essential that national teams and clubs communicate closely in order to share data and information on physical tracking systems and the different thresholds that they use to quantify external loads. In national teams and in clubs, subjective daily measurements of well-being can also be used to manage training loads (Thorpe et al., 2016; Watson et al., 2017).

Table 3 presents practical recommendations that can be adopted by club and national team staff according to the status of their players during the 2022/2023 soccer season. The overall objective is to have players physically ready and uninjured before, during and after the World Cup tournament 2022.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Hassane Zouhal
Employment: University Rennes, M2S (Laboratoire Mouvement, Sport, SantSanté) - EA 1274, F-35000 Rennes, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail: hassane.zouhal@univ-rennes2.fr
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Benjamin Barthélémy
Employment: University Rennes, M2S (Laboratoire Mouvement, Sport, SantSanté) - EA 1274, F-35000 Rennes, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Alexandre Dellal
Employment: FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence, Centre orthopSantédique SantSanté, Lyon, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Sghaeir Zouita
Employment: Higher Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Ksar-Said, Tunisia
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Abderraouf Ben Abderrahman
Employment: Higher Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Ksar-Said, Tunisia
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Omar Ben Ounis
Employment: Higher Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Ksar-Said, Tunisia
Degree:
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E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Claire Tourny
Employment: Department of Sport Sciences, University of Rouen, Rouen, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Ali Belamjahad
Employment: Department of Sport Sciences, University of Rouen, Rouen, France
Degree:
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E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Said Ahmaidi
Employment: Department of Sport Sciences, University of Amiens-Picardie, Amiens, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Thierry Paillard
Employment: Department of Sport Sciences, University of Pays de l’Adour, Tarbes, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Nicolas Dyon
Employment: MyCoach Performance, Nice, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Benoit Bideau
Employment: University Rennes, M2S (Laboratoire Mouvement, Sport, SantSanté) - EA 1274, F-35000 Rennes, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Ayoub Saeidi
Employment: Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Kurdistan, Sanandaj, Kurdistan, Iran
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Jason Moran
Employment: School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester. Essex, UK
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Anis Chaouachi
Employment: Tunisian Research Laboratory “Sports Performance Optimization”, National Center of Medicine and Science in Sports (CNMSS), Tunis, Tunisia
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine George P. Nassis
Employment: Physical Education Department, College of Education, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Christopher Carling
Employment: Fédération Française de Football, Paris, France
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Urs Granacher
Employment: Department of Sport and Sport Science, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
Degree:
Research interests:
E-mail:
 

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine Guillaume Ravé
Employment: Toulouse Football Club (FC Toulouse), Toulouse, France
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E-mail:
 
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