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Global Oct 04, 2013

FIFA Executive Committee mandates water breaks, a la American youth soccer

By Liviu Bird

Of the myriad decisions made by the FIFA Executive Committee following its meetings for the past two days, one note sticks out as being taken straight from the pages of youth tournament rules in the United States.

“To further protect the health of players, the executive took the following decisions,” the official ExCo press release reads. “Additional cooling breaks (after the 30th minute of the first and second halves of the game) will be granted if the [Wet] Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) exceeds 32 degrees.”

In other words, if the WGBT — which takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed and sunlight — calculates the temperature as being higher than 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit, teams will be required to take a water break at the first natural stoppage after the 30th and 75th minutes in international play.

Before, FIFA only supported the idea that “additional cooling breaks are considered,” not enforced, when the WGBT is above 31 degrees Celsius.

In the past, U.S. Soccer has taken issue with such measures during professional matches.

After referee Jair Marrufo gave Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo a water break during a game in June 2009, the federation released a statement during its Referee Week in Review that called the decision “unfortunate.”

“The Laws of the Game do not permit officials to conduct ‘water breaks,’ ” the statement reads. “At other non-professional levels, especially youth levels, the rules of competition may provide guidance for the utilization of ‘water breaks’ when the heat and/or humidity may impact the safety of the players. No such protocol, however, applies to any professional match regardless of the heat or climate.”

On April 4, 2011, the federation restated its position in a release to referees. Once again, the distinction between youth and professional soccer made an appearance.

“In youth matches, a local competition authority might include a rule exception in which a water break is mandated,” the release states. “In such cases, a referee who agrees to accept the assignment is expected to implement the rule.”

Perhaps this recent FIFA mandate is another reaction to the foreseen issues with hosting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where summertime temperatures reach oppressive numbers on a regular basis. Even if the event were moved to November, average high temperatures still reach well into the 80s Fahrenheit that month.

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