Football Australia Heat Policy
The A-League, Westfield W-League, and Y-League are administered by Football Australia. As such, Football Australia is responsible for developing and implementing policies and guidelines to conduct these competitions.
These elite competitions continue throughout the summer months. With optimum Club, player and match officials’ welfare being paramount, one such policy developed and implemented by Football Australia for these competitions is “Football Australia’s Heat Policy”.
Football Australia’s Heat Policy has been developed with reference to international guidelines, including Sports Medicine Australia, the American College of Sports Medicine and FIFA, among others. The Policy attempts to mitigate the risk of heat related injury when matches are played in extreme heat.
Ambient temperature alone is not the sole determining factor in assessing the risk of heat related injury. In addition to the ambient temperature, a range of other key factors such as humidity, cloud cover, solar radiation, wind, shade, and the time of day can interact to determine the heat load on a player.
The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) reading is a parameter that provides an indicator of the risk of exertional heat illness for a footballer, and takes into account all of these factors in providing a temperature reading during training or competition.
The WBGT can be measured via reliable weather sources such as the Bureau of Meteorology and UBIMET, and Football Australia provides Wet Bulb Globe Thermometers for use at specific match locations as required. It is important to note that the WBGT readings can also vary based on the amount of time prior to sunset. For example, typically the effect of solar radiation 3 hours prior to sunset is vastly different than it will be at 5 hours prior to sunset.
Professional and elite level footballers are fitter than the average athlete, and their training regimes are adapted to suit the relevant conditions in which they compete. These footballers are supported by appropriate Sports Medicine, Sports Science and Conditioning programs developed by highly qualified professionals (i.e. Sports Physicians, Physiotherapists and Strength and Conditioning Coaches) within their clubs to assist in acclimatising the player to train and play in heat. Accordingly, players are provided with adequate hydration and cooling practices, management of training loads and monitoring of player performance to assist with effective preparation, and appropriate recovery protocols for matches played in extreme heat.
Football Australia’s Heat Policy provides for a more conservative policy approach that that used by FIFA. The FIFA Heat Policy recommends that drinks breaks are considered when the WBGT reaches a threshold of 32 degrees Celsius. Football Australia’s Heat Policy states that a match may be delayed or postponed when the WBGT reaches 28 degrees Celsius. Further, Football Australia’s Heat Policy mandates that a 90 seconds drinks break is implemented in each half of a match when the WBGT is measured between 26 and 27.9 degrees Celsius, or the ambient temperature is 31 degrees Celsius or greater. Importantly, decisions to implement a drinks break, or delay or postpone a match is a medical decision based on advice from the Team Doctor(s) at the venue.
Football Australia has established a collaboration with UBIMET (www.ubimet.com.au), an internationally recognised leader in severe weather warning technology. UBIMET offers Football Australia world’s best practice in monitoring adverse weather conditions in advance. Particularly, matches that may be played during extreme heat can be identified and these extreme conditions tracked and monitored constantly up to and including match day to ensure that the welfare of players and match officials is the primary consideration. UBIMET’s service provides site-specific forecasts, including the anticipated WBGT for any given location. This means Football Australia is able to identify if extreme heat conditions are likely to be evident on match day, and thus liaise accordingly with the necessary stakeholders, including the Clubs involved in that match.
Dr Mark Jones Biography
Dr Mark Jones is Head of Medical Services at Football Australia. He is also team doctor for the Socceroos, commencing initially in a shared role in 2006, and being the sole physician for the team since 2010.
Previously he was team doctor for the Western Sydney Wanderers A-League team in their inaugural two seasons. Prior to the Wanderers, Dr Jones provided medical coverage on match days for Sydney FC as an away team doctor since the inception of the A-League competition.
Dr Jones commenced his football involvement in 1998 as team doctor for Wollongong Wolves NSL team, inclusive of two NSL Championships. He is a Fellow of the College of Sport and Exercise Physicians, and continues to consult in private practice as a Specialist Sports Medicine Doctor.