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World Cup players call out lack of recovery time: ‘Mentally exhausting’

Australia's players warm up ahead of their World Cup semifinal against England on Aug. 16. (DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Players at the 2023 World Cup did not believe themselves to be in peak physical fitness at the start of the tournament, according to a new survey from FIFPRO.

The global players’ union surveyed players from 26 of the 32 national teams that participated in the World Cup, with 53% of the players saying they felt as though they had “insufficient rest” prior to the tournament. The tournament began on July 20, just 54 days after the Women’s Super League ended and in the midst of the NWSL season.

Two-thirds of players did not believe themselves to be at their physical peak, while 60% said that their post-tournament rest also was insufficient. Less than three weeks after the World Cup final on Aug. 20, Champions League qualifying began, while NWSL players jumped right back into their season.

FIFPRO recommends “an off-season break of four weeks, with a retraining period of six weeks.” But 86% of players responding to the survey said that they had less than two weeks rest before rejoining their club teams. One player described the lack of recovery time as “mentally exhausting.”

“I was trying to rest and prepare at the same time, which doesn’t really work,” another said.

Also, while FIFA tournament regulations state that 100% of players must have a pre-tournament medical exam and an electrocardiogram (ECG), 10% of players surveyed did not receive an exam, and 22% did not have an ECG.

“Anything below 100% when it comes to access to an ECG or undertaking a pre-tournament medical is not acceptable,” said Alex Culvin, FIFA’s head of strategy and research for women’s football. “Regulations need to be applied and adhered to in full.

“Players need an environment that supports their holistic wellbeing, from mental health through to tournament conditions, so they have the platform to be at their competitive best.”

Two-thirds of the players surveyed also said that support for mental health could have been better at the World Cup.