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Mental health concerns about La Liga players in training camps association chief

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The Spanish players’ union (AFE) secretary-general Diego Rivas has told ESPN the association opposes footballers being isolated in long-term training camps ahead of a return to action, citing fears over their mental health.

La Liga clubs have now returned to training after players were tested for the coronavirus last week, while individual sessions will be followed by small-group activities and then full training next month.

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While some players have expressed concerns over their health and safety, sources have told ESPN there is a widespread acceptance of the need to finish the season. The key source of division has been plans which, as originally set out, would have kept footballers in hotels away from their families for at least six weeks.

“Doctors keep telling us the same thing,” Rivas told ESPN. “After a lockdown of over 50 days and then being able to go outside, putting players back in confinement would be very detrimental to their mental health.

“The power of the mind in sport is very great. If this new confinement affects their mental health, that would also affect their performance and everything else, making them more likely to suffer injuries.”

La Liga president Javier Tebas said there will be “zero” risk for matches to be played every day when football returns.

Players have looked to other leagues around Europe where their fellow professionals are likely to have more freedom.

“Look, for example, at the Bundesliga,” Rivas added. “Players can all go to eat together and they won’t be in training camps for more than seven days. Here they wanted them in training camps from the beginning and not leaving their rooms for 15 days. In Germany it’s a normal training camp, not like here. We’ve been against the way they wanted to impose it.”

The protocol for a resumption of training developed by La Liga and Spain’s National Sports Council (CSD) initially called for players to be held in training camps from 18 May, when they are due to begin group sessions.

The limited number of positive test results — just five players in Spain’s first and second divisions, all of them asymptomatic and in the final stages of the illness — has led La Liga to believe that date can be pushed back, and a compromise can be reached.

“We’re going to delay the training camps planned for next week which were due to start on Monday 18 because the tests have given such good results,” Tebas told Movistar on Sunday. “They will now be optional rather than obligatory.”

Dr. Rafael Ramos, president of the Spanish Association of Doctors in Football, told ESPN this was always likely to be the case.

“As time passes, these rules will become more flexible,” he said. “It won’t be as strict as the initial proposal we set out with La Liga and the CSD. A transition is important for players, as such a radical change would be very difficult for them psychologically. It is something that must be assessed and that we’ll keep in mind.

“We have consulted experts and from the first protocol, we’ve talked about [mental] factors. They are people and the information they receive generates a fear of normalization. We don’t know how this period of confinement will affect them, having experienced other difficult situations at home. These first weeks will help a lot to recover mentally, because the adaptation is gradual.”

The most likely scenario is that players will be required to remain isolated in team hotels a week before the resumption of the 2019-20 season.

Although La Liga has pointed to June 12, the final date will depend on the evolution of the coronavirus crisis and the progress of the Spanish government’s de-escalation plan.

When it is deemed safe to play competitive football, games will be played every day of the week so that the campaign can be completed by the end of July, with teams given three days of rest between matches.

“As long as the 72 hours are respected, which is one of the things we asked for within the CSD protocol, it’s no problem,” Rivas added. “We are ready for it and, after speaking with the players, it is something that we know needs to be done.”

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