OBJECTIVE: To assess the risks to footballers' health and safety during competitive international matches, with identification of the most common causes of injury. METHODS: Videos of 44 of the 52 matches played during the 1994 World Cup finals staged in the USA were analysed. During each match, several relevant variables were recorded, including the number of fouls, injuries, treatments, times of incidents, identity of players treated or injured, and the injury mechanism. Additional information on players' injuries was obtained from the extensive media coverage of the event. RESULTS: Only 29% of injuries resulted from foul play, whereas 71% of injuries to players occurred where no foul play was adjudged by the referee to have taken place (P < 0.01). Defenders were found to be proportionately subjected to a greater risk of injury than other players (P < 0.05). Fifteen per cent of all injuries were judged to be at least moderate, resulting in the player missing at least one match. Frequency of moderate injury was 1026 injuries per 100,000 hours played. CONCLUSIONS: The major causes of injuries during international football matches were not found to be associated with foul play, as judged by the referees. However, in those cases where injuries occurred without a foul being committed, almost 50% involved player to player contact. This gives some cause for concern and is worth further investigation.
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