Footballers suffered worse injuries after Qatar World Cup, shocking study finds

AL KHOR, QATAR - DECEMBER 10: Jude Bellingham of England reacts after a missed chance during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter final match between England and France at Al Bayt Stadium on December 10, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar. (Photo by Shaun Botterill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Injury severity increased after the Qatar 2022 World Cup
Injury severity increased after the Qatar 2022 World Cup

Injury severity among footballers in Europe’s top leagues increased following the first winter World Cup in Qatar last year, according to research published today.

The average time players spent recovering from injuries rocketed from 11.35 days before the World Cup to 19.41 days after the tournament, insurance group Howden found.

While the number of injuries in Europe’s five biggest leagues remained broadly flat year on year, the greater severity meant the costs increased 27 per cent from £484.3m to £616.6m, according to the Men’s European Football Injury Index.

“We’ve seen clearly that the staging of a men’s World Cup in a European winter led to players facing an extra eight days on the sidelines in the second half of the season, compared to the first,” said Howden’s head of sport James Burrows.

“The impact was consistent across domestic leagues such as the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga.

“The data is clear in demonstrating a trend, and we hope our research and analysis will provide Europe’s top clubs with additional insight as they continue to talk to the game’s governing bodies about an improved alignment of the domestic and international calendars and the broad issue of fixture congestion.”

The numbers highlight an area of concern in men’s professional football, especially given that the 2034 World Cup in Saudi Arabia is also likely to be scheduled during winter.

Premier League clubs suffered 946 injuries last season, second only to the Bundesliga, but almost 25 per cent down on the previous season. However, the cost of those injuries was up 38 per cent to £255.4m, the report said.

The average length of an injury layoff in Europe’s five top leagues last season was 23.62 days, a 47 per cent increase on the 2021-22 campaign.

The study is the latest research into the impact on players of the Qatar World Cup. Footballers’ union Fifpro found that 44 per cent of players it surveyed who took part in the tournament reported “extreme or increased physical fatigue” in the month afterwards.

Despite growing pressure to consider player workload, football chiefs continue to expand competitions. Next season’s Champions League will feature more teams and fixtures, as will the 2026 World Cup, while in 2025 Fifa is launching a vastly expanded Club World Cup.

England manager Gareth Southgate is currently feeling the effects of injuries on his squad. He is without Jude Bellingham, James Maddison and John Stones, among several others, for Monday’s final Euro 2024 qualifier in North Macedonia.