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Professional Players Federation voice concerns about demands placed on elite sport stars

Chief executive of the Professional Players Federation Simon Taylor says his organisation believes elite sport stars are being pushed to the edge.

The demands on top-level footballers, cricketers and rugby players are “perilously close” to the limit of what is sustainable, a player association executive has warned.

The men’s Rugby World Cup will have run for 51 days by the time the final is played in Paris on October 28.

While the quarter-finals provided some scintillating action, the event faced criticism in its early stages for seeming disjointed and lacking in momentum, not to mention being challenging mentally and physically for those playing, and those sat on the bench.

Its cricket counterpart is only marginally shorter at 46 days, while the new 48-team format in the football World Cup starting from 2026 is set to be seven days longer than its summer predecessors in 2010, 2014 and 2018 and 10 days longer than Qatar 2022.

Simon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Players Federation, the national organisation for player associations in the UK, fears governing bodies are not getting the balance right between growing their sport, commercial demands and protecting their most valuable assets – the players.

“I don’t think player welfare is currently given as much priority as it should be within the international game,” he told the PA news agency.

“Sports need to work with their player associations to get the balance right and look after players.

“For a variety of reasons, mostly commercial, they look to exploit players and keep asking more and more of them. Yes, they get paid good money, but all the money in the world doesn’t make any difference if you have to retire from your sport at 28.

“Players are not stupid, players know their bodies and what they’re capable of doing. Sports are laying themselves open to failing in their duty of care.

“I feel we are perilously close to going over the limits of what is sustainable.”

A number of high-profile footballers have spoken out in the last year about the increasing demands of the calendar. In addition to the World Cup expansion, FIFA is adding a new 32-team Club World Cup to be played every four years, while UEFA’s club competitions are changing to include more matches from next season.

Manchester United defender Raphael Varane, who retired from international football at the age of 29 after the Qatar World Cup, likened his sport’s relentless schedule to being flung around a washing machine.

Football is not alone though in seeking to cram more and more into the calendar, with the Rugby World Cup potentially going from 20 to 24 teams for the 2031 finals, while the International Cricket Council has said the 2027 and 2031 editions will be 14-team, 54-match events.

The T20 World Cup will grow to a 20-team, 55-match event from next year, in addition to the Champions Trophy and the International Test Championship.

Ben Stokes described cricket’s schedule as “unsustainable” when he retired from the 50-over format in July last year.

He may have since reversed that decision, but Taylor expects players across the three sports will have to start being more selective about the events they play in.

“If you’re not (finding that balance) the players will eventually say ‘enough is enough’ and they’ll either vote with their feet by withdrawing from international matches or we will start to see lower-quality games, which will eventually lose their commercial appeal. We know that greed kills the golden goose,” Taylor said.

Taylor accepted the Rugby World Cup’s length is in part due to player welfare considerations – with the tournament extended by a week in order to give a minimum five days’ rest between matches.

“It’s a really difficult balance – you need sufficient recovery and preparation time, but at the same time you don’t want World Cups to last months and months,” he said.

“Especially entertainment-wise, you want to build up momentum and it’s got a beautiful rhythm when it works well.”

Taylor is not expecting players to take some dramatic, sudden stand against the growing demands facing them, adding: “I imagine it would be a gradual thing until it gets to the point where the best players are missing the World Cups, or players are injured, players having to prioritise between a World Cup and a domestic campaign, when to have a scheduled operation and so on.

“They get to a point where perhaps players are not prepared to keep flogging themselves, burning out and taking time off from their sports. I feel it will end with more of a fizzle than a bang.

“We are at the stage where we are starting to see players not being at their best for World Cups and they’re starting to feel that organisers are not listening to them or looking out for their welfare, and players will start voting with their feet.”

FIFA points out that the overall ‘footprint’ of the 48-team tournament – covering rest, release and the tournament itself – is still the same 56 days it was for the last three summer World Cups.

The Club World Cup has replaced the Confederations Cup on the calendar, and FIFA pointed out that its Council approved the creation of a dedicated player welfare task force in March, though it has still not been activated.

World Rugby and the International Cricket Council were also contacted for comment.

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