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Solving fixture woes needs cool heads and a degree of commonsense

Manton St Tales

Five points adrift on the foot of the A-League ladder with two wins from 18 starts, the Reds are feeling the heat - both figuratively and literally. How to solve the figurative dilemma is anyone's guess but, argues Paul Marcuccitti, tackling the literal problem is a no-brainer.

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By now all A-League fans should have expert knowledge of the wet-bulb globe temperature.

So much so that outrage is likely to be directed at Football Federation Australia if it doesn’t start including the estimated WBGT in match previews on the A-League website.

Apparently, for player safety, it’s a better measure than the air temperature we’re more used to.

But if, as FFA stated last week, the WBGT reading for the Adelaide United v Wellington game was actually below the minimum required for scheduling drinks breaks, then the policy needs revision; some of the visiting players were ill and a few supporters in the stands needed medical attention.

Phoenix players stop to drink during the round 17 A-League match between the Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. (AAP Image/David Mariuz) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Wellington Phoenix players stop to drink during last week’s draw with Adelaide – although the temperature was apparently below the minimum required for drinks breaks. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

Yesterday in the nation’s capital, which hosted Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United, and the W-League semi between Canberra and Melbourne City, the WBGT was above the temperature at which FFA policy states that “there should be consideration of delays and postponement”.

Both went ahead. Fortunately FFA were checking forecasts during the week and shifted the W-League encounter, which had previously been scheduled for an early afternoon kick off (before the A-League match). It ended up being the later game.

Of course we wouldn’t have this problem if our premier soccer leagues were played when they should be – in winter.

But, nearly 30 years ago, the Australian Soccer Federation could see that there were advantages in moving to summer. One of them was minimising direct competition with other football codes.

And it worked. So well that there hasn’t been a serious proposal aimed at reverting to the colder months.

Nevertheless it means extreme heat will often cause problems. And they’re not easy to get around.

One option FFA could look at is scheduling more matches in the evening.

Sure, that sounds ridiculously obvious but some later timeslots are underused. Particularly Sunday nights, which see little A-League action.

Sunday night fixtures would mean the heat problem pops up less often

That might not be a preferred time for many fans and viewers; however, both recent matches in extreme afternoon heat were scheduled in Sunday’s daylight hours when the evening was free.

Coincidentally, both matches featured Adelaide United. And the Reds, winless in the fortnight, as for much of the season, have a five-day turnaround before facing Perth on Friday evening – the forecast maximum (air temperature) for that day is 37 degrees. When your luck’s not in…

Had United v Wellington, and yesterday’s match in Canberra, been scheduled for evenings in the first place, so many difficulties could be avoided: the possibility of having to rearrange fixtures; fans not having certainty (because not everyone has an app with WBGT forecasts); and, most importantly, player welfare and spectator comfort.

(And yes I’ve seen that other suggestion – we could also build stadiums with retractable roofs in each city. If you’re in that camp, feel free to start the fundraising campaign.)

Sunday night fixtures won’t solve everything but they would mean the heat problem pops up less often.

Moreover, fans would love more matches under lights. They give us a better atmosphere and a better spectacle, whether we’re at the game or watching in our living rooms.

Next season is likely to be the last before the A-League expands from 10 to 12 or 14 clubs so it might be an idea to trial more Sunday night matches then – the extra fixtures that will be needed with the new teams will force a rethink anyway because broadcasters will want to avoid having matches played simultaneously.

And if FFA gets it right, avoiding sunstroke won’t be the only benefit.

Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.

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