These are certainly challenging times for the sporting calendar across the board.
Particularly it seems for women’s football, this appears somewhat remarkable given its raised profile in this country over the last few years and when the FA announced the Women Super League as the first fully professional division in Europe back in 2017.
It looked as though the only way was up with the prospects of improved publicity and clearer career paths for young talent emerging through the ranks.
Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown attendance records for women’s matches were rising significantly as 38,000 fans turned out at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium to see Arsenal’s 2-0 win over their North London rivals back in November of last year.
This in mind, 24/7 football decided to examine what the Football Association’s current plan is for completing the WSL season.
How many games are left?
There are 45 games of the current season still to be played and no WSL fixture has taken place since the 23 February, following an international break for the SheBelieves Cup involving England, Spain, Japan and the USA.
Already the tiers three to seven of the women’s football leagues in England have been declared null and void and subsequently the decision was confirmed on 9 April. There is the prospect of the top two leagues in the Women’s game following this same line depending upon health advice given by the Government over the coming weeks.
What is the FA’s current plan?
The current plan that the Football Association is looking into is playing out the remaining fixtures all at one central venue behind closed doors with St.George’s Park, the FA’s English National football centre, currently being talked about as a possible location.
The earliest the campaign could begin however would be the weekend of the 6-7 June depending on the government’s advice and would rely on the players being able to begin training in the final week of May.
The completion date being targeted would therefore be the weekend of 18-19 July and would require each of the 12 WSL teams to play two matches per week.
It is understood that the FA would want any decisions made on the top women’s division to follow along with any similar choices made by the Premier League and the European Football governing body, UEFA.
How do the managers and players feel about this?
Manchester City and England striker Ellen White is hoping that the ‘crazy’ Super League season will be completed when the coronavirus is lifted. White said:
“First and foremost I just want everyone to be healthy. I think everyone would love to finish the season but everyone’s health is the top priority.
“It’s been a pretty crazy season already and it’s a massive fight for who is going to win the league.”
Despite losing their manager Nick Cushing to New York City FC Manchester City found themselves a point clear ahead of their nearest rivals Chelsea. However their title rivals have a game in hand, which had set up an exciting finish until COVID-19 stopped all sport.
The Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes meanwhile has said:
“When the men’s professional game resumes the WSL should consider doing that but I understand if the season does not resume and life is ultimately more important. Hopefully when the times come to lift the restrictions we can all do it in the same way.”
While the Bristol City Women’s manager Tanya Oxtoby has recently expressed concerns that some players may in fact be struggling with anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 lockdown. Oxtoby said
“Athletes like structure, routine and to be around each other. So I think from a mental health point of view that’s probably very difficult.
“There’s also been the added stress in terms of finances and families, those are all factors that will affect individual players a little bit differently.”
This observation can certainly be applied to all sports personnel during this time. FIFA Pro recently carried out a survey alongside Amsterdam University on both male and female footballers which showed 22% of female players and 13% of male players have reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of depression.
The Football Association is determined to complete the current season but wants it finished by no later than early August.
The FA Women’s Director Kelly Simmons, supports this by saying:
“We are determined to finish the FA WSL, Women’s Championship and the FA Cup in the most appropriate way while it is also the intention of UEFA to complete the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
“We are doing everything we can to plan for the return of football but for now safety and welfare remains are primary concern.”
One thing is however clearly apparent; this is certainly an unprecedented time for all those involved and ultimately tough decisions will need to be made about the future and growth of the women’s game in the days ahead.