Michael Pavitt

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about my tentative support for the UEFA Nations League format with the competition providing more structured international football matches in place of meaningless friendlies, as well as pitting nations of a similar level against each other.

The return of the Nations League this past week - which oddly begins before the end of playoffs from the last edition - reinforced this idea.

Victories for minnows such as Gibraltar, Luxembourg and the Faroe Islands highlighted the merits of the competition, with the latter clinching a dramatic 3-2 triumph against Malta due to a superb 90th minute free kick.

I acknowledge that this might be a fairly knee-jerk response, but the batch of international fixtures has raised questions over whether the competition is worthwhile this time around.

With domestic leagues either back underway or starting up in the coming weeks, the fixtures have appeared to be unnecessary dates in the calendar with international matches taking place on the same day as many pre-season friendlies.

Some of the matches have had the feel of pre-season ties, rather than serving as competitive internationals.

The other viewpoint would be that these are the first set of international fixtures this calendar year due to the pandemic. It is understandable that national team managers, Football Associations and UEFA would certainly want their teams to have game-time, especially with Euro 2020 playoffs and preparations for next year’s tournament their focus.

With both national and managers of club teams seeking to field their best line-ups in each competition, there is a question over the burden some players will face in the coming months and whether their injury risk will significantly increase.

The European Club Association and players’ representative organisation FIFPRO last month published international guidelines on player health protection, covering the period from 2020 to 2023 due to the condensed nature of the calendar.

The delayed start to the football season has led to a packed calendar ©Getty Images
The delayed start to the football season has led to a packed calendar ©Getty Images

The organisations said that it is likely that pressure on the calendar will further intensify during this pandemic, increasing injury and potential infection risks of players, especially those involved in international competitions.

Among the guidelines was that due to the "density of match calendars in the emergency period, individual load management of players is essential to prevent injuries and maintain performance ability."

The recommendation was made for individualised resting of players during particularly dense periods of matches, providing rest after long-distance travel, mitigating fatigue, optimal medical standards and cooperation between medical and technical staff of club and national teams.

These will clearly be necessary during a packed club calendar with domestic and continental competitions, with many of those players then expected to be involved in international matches.

Given that FIFPro last year raised concerns over "match overload", the pile-up of fixtures could make matters worse. While there has been opposition to the continuation of the temporary rules allowing five substitutes for the forthcoming season over its potential impact on the competitive balance, you could see the merits in lessening the load on players.

Concerns over workload on athletes not only exist in football as, while welcome, several sports have been forced to backload their 2020 calendars due to the cancellations in the first half of the year.

The second week of the US Open is set to get underway this week, with the final of the men’s singles competition falling just eight days prior to the start of the qualifying rounds of the rescheduled French Open.

The close proximity of the events will undoubtedly have impacted players’ decision-making on whether to participate at both tournaments or prioritise one.

It will be fascinating to see whether players who have opted to compete at both events may feel the strain compared to rivals who withdrew from the US Open but plan on playing at Roland Garros.

Injury concerns again must be a subject considered, particularly given the likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray all face lengthy spells on the sidelines in recent years. In part, this may be due to the quartet approaching the final years of their careers, but the impact of a long season appears to have played a role.

With players having spent the first half of the year largely absent from the tennis court, it will be interesting to see what impact the packed second part of the year has.

The Tour de France is one of several marquee races towards the conclusion of this year's altered cycling season ©Getty Images
The Tour de France is one of several marquee races towards the conclusion of this year's altered cycling season ©Getty Images

Cricket and cycling have seen their calendars packed for the remainder of the year.

Since returning in July, the England cricket team have had a three test series against the West Indies, three one-day internationals against Ireland, three tests and T20 fixtures against Pakistan, and are currently facing Australia in a series of T20 and one-day matches.

Granted the squads have been rotated throughout the period, but the turnaround seems fast for fans so one can only imagine how it feels for the players.

In cycling, perhaps it is a relief that the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana overlap their year, which prevents any cyclist from attempting all three Grand Tours this season.

We will undoubtedly see some riders seek to complete both the ongoing Tour de France and one of the other Grand Tours in October. The gap is not that extreme, especially as the existing calendar would normally have roughly seen a month gap between the Giro d’Italia’s conclusion and the start of the Tour de France.

Spectators, journalists, athletes and sporting officials will no doubt be united in delighting that the calendar is beginning to look packed once more, with a selection of live sport ready to watch rather than the throwback clips from lockdown.

Hopefully there is little toll on the athletes themselves as they negotiate the packed period with events and fixtures needing to be fulfilled.