Coronavirus increases risk of players suffering mental health problems

RESENDING WITH COMPLETE SCRIPT

VIDEO SHOWS: INTERVIEW WITH FIFPRO GENERAL SECRETARY, JONAS BAER-HOFFMANN, FILE FOOTAGE OF SOCCER TEAMS TRAINING

SHOWS:

NEAR HEIDELBERG, GERMANY (APRIL 3, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

1. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FIFPRO GENERAL SECRETARY, JONAS BAER-HOFFMANN, SAYING:

"Yes, certainly, mental health is a huge consideration. I mean we have from studies over the last years anyways we can see that there are elevated numbers in terms of risks for anxiety and different psychological problems of players compared to the general population probably because it's quite a high tense and precarious employment for most of them and clearly these times make this worse."

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (FILE - DECEMBER 9, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

2. VARIOUS OF LIVERPOOL TRAINING SESSION IN PROGRESS

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (FILE - OCTOBER 22, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

3. LIVERPOOL TRAINING SESSION IN PROGRESS

NEAR HEIDELBERG, GERMANY (APRIL 3, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

4. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FIFPRO GENERAL SECRETARY, JONAS BAER-HOFFMANN, SAYING:

"What I think are some of the factors to take into account as well we have many young individuals who are on their own away from their home countries. They have no family support often times in these countries. Many of them have literally one-year employment contracts meaning there's enormous distress about whether they have any kind of income coming the end of this season."

GENK, BELGIUM (FILE - OCTOBER 22, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

5. VARIOUS OF GENK TRAINING SESSION IN PROGRESS

NEAR HEIDELBERG, GERMANY (APRIL 3, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

6. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FIFPRO GENERAL SECRETARY, JONAS BAER-HOFFMANN, SAYING:

"But it is a huge concern and I think it's also something where we have to look at women's football. We've had quite a few players who play abroad and who often times do so under lesser conditions than most of the men who would travel to another country to pursue their career. They're often times on their own. They don't travel with family, they don't have spouses or someone sometimes with them, which means they are sitting in a foreign country, in a small apartment that the club is providing with hardly any social interaction and no family support nearby and that creates enormous pressure that we're trying to help them with and where we're also in many cases we're trying to lobby to allow these players, although it's not easy in these times to travel home and be with their families simply because their well-being is more important than a potential return to practice maybe two or three days later which I think in these current circumstances we all know is a long way away anyway."

GENK, BELGIUM (FILE - OCTOBER 22, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

7. VARIOUS OF GENK TRAINING SESSION IN PROGRESS

MADRID, SPAIN (FILE - FEBRUARY 25, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

8. VARIOUS OF REAL MADRID TRAINING SESSION IN PROGRESS

LIMONEST, FRANCE (FILE - JULY 1, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

9. VARIOUS OF ENGLAND WOMEN'S PLAYERS TRAINING

OULLINS, FRANCE (FILE - JULY 2, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

10. VARIOUS OF NETHERLANDS WOMEN'S TEAM TRAINING

DARDILLY, FRANCE (FILE - JULY 2, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

11. VARIOUS OF SWEDEN WOMEN'S TEAM TRAINING

STORY: Professional footballers often live alone in a strange country, far from their families and work in a high-adrenaline profession where they can be heroes one day and forgotten the next.

Not surprisingly, they are prone to mental health problems and the global players' union FIFPRO says the uncertainty caused by the novel coronavirus crisis will make that worse, with women especially vulnerable.

"Mental health is a huge consideration," FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann told Reuters in an interview.

"We have, from studies over the years, seen there are elevated risks for anxiety and different psychological problems for players compared to the general population because it's a tense and precarious employment for most of them and (this) makes it worse."

Soccer around the world has been brought to a standstill by the pandemic with domestic leagues put on hold and the Euro 2020, Copa America and Olympic soccer tournaments postponed for one year.

Top players have come under pressure to accept wage cuts to help their clubs through the stoppage, however FIFPRO says this is not an option for many outside the biggest leagues who often struggle to make ends meet.

"We have many young individuals who are on their own, away from their home countries, they often have no family support in these countries and many of them literally have one-year employment contracts," said Baer-Hoffmann.

"That creates enormous distress about whether they will have any kind of income coming in at the end of this season."

In a survey published in 2015, FIFPRO found that 38% of active players and 35% of former professionals faced depression or anxiety problems at some stage.

One issue at the moment, FIFPRO says, is that players are usually focused entirely on their profession and may find themselves with a void when they have no matches to think about.

In a bid to help the players, FIFPRO has published advice under the title "Keep your mind sharp".

It reminds them to maintain a healthy lifestyle and sleep patterns, stay connected via social media, follow a routine and take breaks, such as listening to music or watching a favourite TV show.

It advises players to "focus on what you can control as we sometimes fixate on events outside of our control."

Players should follow the news, it adds, but not too much.

"Avoid reading everything on COVID-19 in the news or on social media because this can unnecessarily amplify stress or worry," it says.

Some national players' unions, meanwhile, have set up hotlines to help their members.

Baer-Hoffman said women players might struggle more as their living conditions were often inferior to those of male players.

"They are on their own, sitting in a small apartment that the club is providing with hardly any social interaction or family support nearby and that creates enormous pressure mentally," he added.

(Production: Tim Hart)

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