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Explained: How the Premier League coped with a weekend of extreme heat

The heat is rising — and not just for new Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag

This summer has seen the temperature pass 40C (104F) for the first time in UK history, and the country also endured its second heatwave in under a month over the weekend. 

The Premier League has reacted by introducing drinks breaks midway through each half, while clubs also took further steps to reduce the risk to their players. 

Calculations by the Met Office estimate heatwaves are set to become 10 times more likely due to climate change, so the Premier League will face more days like this ahead. 

With that in mind, The Athletic explains how football is trying to cope.

Just how hot was it this weekend?

The temperature was highest as Manchester United kicked off away to Brentford, in south west London, with the mercury reaching 34C late on Saturday afternoon.

It was a full five degrees cooler earlier in the day 70 miles away in Brighton, where Newcastle fans were rewarded for their long trip south — made without rail services because of strike action on Saturday — with cooling south coast winds.

The temperatures at the nine games played over the two days were:

What impact did it have?

Several players complained about the temperatures they had to try to perform in, including Aston Villa full-back Matty Cash, who actually played in one of the cooler games, with its earlier kick-off time, but blamed his substitution for cramping on heat-related issues.

However, it should be noted temperatures within stadiums can frequently exceed that of the general air temperature because of the heat-absorbing capacity of the glass, concrete and plastic they’re built from. 

Speaking after the win over Everton, Poland international Cash said: “The heat was ridiculous. It is the hottest game I have ever played in. That is why my body cramped up (and had to be substituted late in normal time). 

“The heat affects everything. You lose your energy really quick. I must have had at least 10 water breaks. Everything sweats out of you. You just have to try and hang in there and try not to get cramp, like I did.”

What special measures did clubs take?

Sources have told The Athletic clubs may weigh players before, during, and after a game to monitor their hydration levels, also testing their urine using a small machine to monitor essential electrolytes. 

Several clubs used wet towels to rapidly cool their players, with West Ham handing out pink ones during drinks breaks away to Nottingham Forest on Sunday. These are intended to work on the hypothalamus — the brain stem at the back of the neck, which is responsible for regulating body temperature. 

Clubs also have the option of targeting players’ hands and feet with cold-water immersion during half-time, with these being the areas of the body emitting the most heat. 

In last weekend’s opening round of matches, when the weather was warm but not to the levels seen on Saturday and Sunday, several Premier League players sprayed water on their boots, as Gregg Evans reported in David Ornstein’s weekly column

Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel also revealed that they have changed their training times as a result of the heatwave. 

What rules does the Premier League have on extreme heat?

Only one rule currently exists, with the FA enforcing mandatory drinks breaks if the temperature exceeds 30C. 

These have also been used as an opportunity for managers to pass along further instructions to their teams, with Thomas Frank of Brentford carrying a tactics board out on to the pitch to help get his point across. 

More regulations may be required in the future. 

How is the Premier League attempting to tackle climate change?

Speaking before Sunday’s game against Tottenham, Tuchel argued that football needs to be a leader in efforts to combat climate change.

“We can be huge role models in it, because we have this recognition and range that people follow us,” Tuchel said. 

“And while I’m saying this I’m drinking out of a plastic bottle, which is simply not good! We need to be on it. Because we are not alone. We are role models and we have to adapt.

“The sun gets hotter and hotter and rain gets less and less and water more and more precious. It’s scary and not nice.”

Earlier this month, the Premier League told The Athletic’s Matt Woosnam it is “in the process of developing an environmental sustainability strategy, which will set out plans to deliver climate action and address other priority issues including biodiversity and managing resources sustainably”.

However, clubs have been criticised for taking numerous short-haul plane journeys to reach games around the country faster than travelling by road or rail. Flying releases the most emissions per mile of all mainstream forms of transport. 

The Premier League added that it “recognises the need to take action on climate change and is committed to reducing its overall climate impact”.

Last November, it was one of several sports organisations, including football’s global and European governing bodies FIFA and UEFA, to sign up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This includes aims to achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2040.

(Photo: Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

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