The cooling break in football is actually new.
AFCON 2023, The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and the 2020 European Championships. These footballing competitions have one thing in common. They all had Cooling Breaks implemented during all of them. We all saw players take a break in the middle of the first or second half of a football match to catch their breath and rehydrate while watching these competitions.
But why did FIFA and IFAB (International Football Association Board) implement the cooling break in football, and what are the laws surrounding it? We are going to take an in-depth look at all of that and more. First, let us properly define a Cooling Break.
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What are Cooling Breaks?
In FIFA-regulated competitions, the Cooling Break is strategically health-focused interventions that aid players when the playing conditions can potentially jeopardize the welfare of the athletes. In simpler terms, Cooling breaks are planned stops within each half of a football match to let players cool off and rehydrate. Typically, during very hot and humid weather conditions.
The implementation of this law takes into account the diversity of footballing locations. As a result, the top governing footballing bodies decided to safeguard their assets. However, it can’t be used willy-nilly. Certain conditions must be met before a cooling break can be allowed. We are going to take a look at those conditions next.
When are Cooling Breaks Allowed?
There isn’t a specific temperature or humidity limit for implementing Cooling Breaks during football matches. It largely depends on the guidelines set by the competition’s organizing body (e.g., The English Football Association, UEFA, etc.).
FIFA for instance, does not have a fixed threshold, but it considers a set of factors, one of which is the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). This parameter takes into account the temperature, humidity, windspeeds, and solar radiation of the location.
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Decision to Implement Cooling Break
Once the threshold set by the competition’s organizers is met, who decides to implement the Cooling Break? Well, in a competition where the cooling break hasn’t been implemented a lot, the decision is made by the medical experts and Match Officials. They take into consideration the WGBT index and its risk to the players.
In other situations when the competition is in a location known to be hot and humid, the Cooling breaks become compulsory in each match. We have seen such examples in the World Cup in 2022 and 2014.
Cooling Breaks vs Drinks Break
It is important to note the difference between ‘Cooling’ and ‘Drink’ break in football. It is easy to mix both of these up. Law 7 of the IFAB rule changes in 2019 species the difference between both of them. Both of them occur in the middle of each half, but Cooling breaks last longer. A cooling break is expected to be about 3 minutes long, while a drinks break lasts for about a minute.
Other differences include players having to stay on the pitch during drinks breaks. While players can be allowed to sit in shades outside the pitch. Players are also allowed to take off their shirts to aid the cooling process if recommended by the medical experts.
One more thing both breaks have in common is – they must not turn into coaching sessions. But coaches as always find ways to communicate tactics during this period.
When was the First Cooling Break Implemented?
The first football cooling break was introduced in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Matches at this World Cup were played in high temperatures and humidity, particularly in cities such as Manaus. As a response to this, Cooling breaks were implemented to protect the players participating in this tournament.
Drinks break however were first implemented in the return of club football after the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The use of the drinks break was temporary and was a direct response to the pandemic. For this reason, their use varied based on the circumstances and regulations of the footballing authorities.
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Cooling breaks are one of the few measures the footballing bodies have put in place to protect the welfare of players. Beyond the health and conditions of players, they also ensure fair competition. This makes for better matches without running out of gas late in either half of the game. And also prevent other heat-related health issues.
Another law to this effect was the 5-man substitution that came around during the return from the pandemic. But that is a discussion for another day.