Novak Djokovic Is Right, It's Time To Get Serious About Player Welfare In Sport

Players must come first, and sport must try to work around their needs
12:55, 25 Jul 2021

The judgement on player welfare has often been clouded by the amount of money these sporting superstars earn. ‘How can you possibly be tired when earning £250k a week?’ But the long-debated issue of tiredness has morphed into fatigue, and we are now at the point where unless something changes, we will see a serious accident on a pitch or court, due to the conditions. 

We expect these players to entertain us, at the time that is best suited for global television audiences rather than their physical fitness. As long as the sponsors are happy and everybody gets paid, the player’s welfare is not a primary concern for the organisers.

The latest development in the battle for better working conditions for these players comes from the world number one in tennis, Novak Dkokovic in Tokyo. Having already raised concerns earlier this year about the conditions players were experiencing ahead of the Australian Open, now he is furious that the game times mean that players are exposed to the brutality of the midday sun in Japan, often experiencing temperatures of 33C. 

"I don't understand why they don't start matches at, say, 3pm," he said. "We still have seven hours to play. They have lights on all the courts."

After beating Bolivia's Hugo Dellien 6-2 6-2 in his opening round match, he said the conditions meant that players were "constantly dehydrated".


"You feel you have weights on your shoulders because there's so much heat and humidity and stagnated air," the Wimbledon champion said.

"You don't feel yourself, you feel slow with your legs. It's not the first time we get to experience tough conditions. I spoke to a couple of guys in the locker room and all of them said this is the toughest that they have experienced day to day.

"I don't really get why ITF [the International Tennis Federation] doesn't want to move the matches."

The ITF responded citing the nine-day time period as a reason why, along with the unpredictability of the weather, but this is a problem that extends throughout sport. Footballers in 2022 will have to stop their league seasons in winter to go and play and World Cup in Qatar as the conditions in summer are too hot.

The Champions League is forcing more games into the schedule, international football is getting more competitive and at some point, all players will burn out - we saw a part of that during the cramped Covid-19 season.

There needs to be more understanding of human limitations if we want to see the very best of our sporting superstars. Governing bodies across the world must put people ahead of money and understand that sports played in cooler conditions, with more rest periods will see the quality of the action on display go up, it is as simple as that.

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