PFA survey reveals bullying a serious issue in football

Almost 10 per cent of Premier League and EFL players surveyed last season by
the Professional Footballers’ Association said they had experienced bullying
during their careers, while almost five per cent had suicidal thoughts.

Well-being data released by the PFA on World Mental Health Day highlights the social and mental health challenges current and former professionals face, but also the work the union is doing to help its members.

Seventy-nine out of 843 male players in the EFL and Premier League surveyed across the course of last season said they had been bullied at some point in their professional life, while 40 said they had experienced thoughts about taking their own life in the three months prior to completing the survey.

Dr Michael Bennett, director of PFA wellbeing, said of the bullying statistics: “These are stark figures that illustrate how serious these issues are in the game. Based on this feedback, we have adapted the sessions this season to learn more about the type of bullying players face. It could be peer-on-peer bullying, for example, from team-mates in the dressing room or training ground. It could be by club staff or management.

“We are particularly concerned around transfer windows. We know that players can be isolated from their squads when a club is trying to force a move. We are often dealing with cases like this. Ultimately, whether it is the training ground or the stadium on a matchday, it’s a player’s workplace. They have a right to feel protected and safe at work. It feels obvious to state, but any form of bullying will have a lasting impact on an individual’s mental health.”

The data was gathered at well-being workshops held at clubs over the course of the 2021-22 campaign.

Some 12 per cent of players (98) said they had felt pressured into getting vaccinated against Covid-19 or felt emotional distress about it, and 22 per cent (189) had experienced severe anxiety, to the point of feeling afraid or that something awful might happen.

Dr Bennett added: “Elite sport can be a highly pressurised and competitive environment. Professional football is a results-based industry, for both players and staff, careers are on the line. Livelihoods are on the line. It’s a constant rollercoaster. A bad pass or a missed chance, your confidence goes. Score a goal, and the adrenaline is pumping.

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Hope Powell and Roy Hodgson received PFA Merit Awards earlier this year for their outstanding contributions to football

“Players are often at the mercy of a short-term focus and factors outside their control, such as injury, transfer policies, and team selection. Any of which can have a dramatic impact on their long-term career.

“We host well-being workshops at clubs with players of all ages, ranging from the academy to first team. These sessions are vital in creating a secure place to discuss mental health. The data shows that most players will be concerned about at least some aspects of their well-being. These conversations help normalise talking about mental health with the squad.”

The PFA also revealed that 520 members accessed counselling or support services via Sporting Chance last season. Forty-seven per cent were current players, 48 per cent were former players and five per cent were family members of players that the union agreed to support.

Nine per cent of the 520 were female players, 86 per cent of whom were current and 14 per cent former players.