One of the most intriguing aspects of the global soccer machine is the international break. For one or two weeks at a time, the club competitions come to a halt. Players gather from all over the world to represent their respective countries.
For the most part, international breaks are overwhelmingly popular. Players take immense pride from pulling on the jersey of their national team. Fans enjoy seeing the best their nation has to offer take the field as one collective unit.
International competitions such as the World Cup offer athletes a chance to win the most prestigious trophy in the sport. Additionally, they often serve as a fan’s introduction to soccer at the highest level.
With all that being said, the current international break has raised questions around the necessity of certain matches.
In the midst of a global pandemic, limiting athlete travel has been a key part of successful sporting endeavors. Inherently, the international break clashes with the concept of a bubble. When medical protocols are followed to a T, these matches may well be conducted in a safe manner. Based on the sheer number of athletes who are the move, however, it is difficult to ensure that is the case.
The example of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah perfectly illustrates these concerns. The news broke yesterday that Salah had tested positive for Covid-19 while serving as a member of the Egyptian National Team. A few days earlier, Salah was filmed while attending the wedding of his brother Nasr:
Football Star of Egypt and Liverpool Mo Salah celebrates the wedding of his brother, Nasr.#EgyptToday #Egypt @MoSalah #MoSalah #Liverpool @mosalah #Mohamedsalah @LFCTransferRoom @empireofthekop | #محمد_صلاح pic.twitter.com/GIMliRMDnq
— Egypt Today Magazine (@EgyptTodayMag) November 11, 2020
I certainly cannot fault Salah for feeling a desire to attend the wedding to support his brother. Additionally, it is not possible at this point to determine if Salah contracted the virus while at the event, or if that occurred earlier on.
However, this much seems clear: the international break has significantly increased the number of individuals players like Salah come into contact with. Even when protocols are followed, asking players to fly from country to country and mix with a whole new set of teammates seems like an extra risk that could potentially jeopardize their health.
Additionally, the international break adds to the growing concern around fixture congestion. In the opening days of the current international break, Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Manchester City’s Nathan Aké each suffered significant injuries. In the aftermath, both player’s managers, Gareth Southgate and Frank de Boer, spoke about the toll that international action takes on the players. Considering that the club season has already been condensed due to Covid delays, the players are short on rest as it is. Therefore, international games place extra stress on the bodies of the players when they’re already playing more games than normal in a limited amount of time.
Many of the games being played are important qualifiers for tournaments that have already been delayed. However, there have also been a considerable number of friendly matches without anything at stake.
I’m certainly not calling for a stoppage to international play. If that happened, we’d miss out on magical moments like David Marshall sending Scotland to the Euros for the first time in 22 years with a penalty save of the highest order:
We don't know if you've heard, but Thursday night was a bit special.
While there weren't #scenes in the stands, there certainly were in living rooms around Scotland.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 14, 2020
Games like that one must go ahead, I understand that. But in the current climate, do we really need to see Japan play Panama and Qatar play Costa Rica with nothing on the line?
As my fellow CGS writer Diego rightfully points out, FIFA altered substitute rules immediately after the Covid stoppage. Based on the injuries and Covid risks that we have seen, is it not time for them to do something similar?
Seemingly every few years, organizations like FIFA and UEFA add new competitions or expand pre-existing ones. In almost every single case, they have done so with a new source of income in mind. The modern game is very much driven by ad revenue and profit margins. By now, we’ve seen that reflected in club soccer as well as the international game.
On paper, more soccer always sounds like a great idea. However, it’s time to take a serious look at how the increasing demands of an ever-expanding schedule are impacting the players. Now more than ever, the athletes deserve to be protected as much as possible. Players are already risking their health by traveling and playing games during a pandemic.
The game is at its very best when the elite players are involved. The desire to give players more chances to play is understandable. But surely this should be done in a way that ensures the players are actually healthy enough to participate. Yes, injuries are unfortunately part of the game. But why not try to limit them whenever possible?
In a global industry that revolves around the bottom line, the players are the most valuable commodity. But first and foremost, they’re human beings. It is time for owners and organizers to take action that reflects that.
– Andrew Fasciano (@afasc573)
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