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Underlying Issues in English Women’s Soccer

With the FIFA’s Women’s World Cup in France coming up this summer, the Football Association (FA) is excited about the prospect for boosting the popularity of women’s football in England. Over the years, women’s football is growing in popularity as leagues have been restructured and are adding more teams. With England ranked fourth in FIFA’s World Cup Ranking and as a obvious favorite, the FA’s ultimate goal is for women’s football to hit the mainstream stage.

Currently, amongst girls in the United Kingdom, football is the fastest growing participation sport. With only around 1,000 fans attending WSL games, there is a strong opportunity for growth. With this, comes the need to grow awareness, improve marketing strategies to increase attendance, and more streaming and televised services that can help the club build their commercial income. However, even before the commercial aspect, there are number of institutional problems the FA must address to strengthen the sophistication and professionalism of women’s soccer. Given women’s soccer is at peak interest, it is imperative for these challenges to be dealt with. If a sport goes mainstream with these types of underlying issues, the game may not last long once in the spotlight. Otherwise, women’s soccer can turn into the number of women’s sports that captured interest in international tournaments and the Olympics to later have their hype and interest die down.

Medical Equipment

The FA has been criticized for not adequately enforcing their medical and health regulations for the Women’s Super League and Championships teams. This can be demonstrated by an incident that occurred between the Charlton Athletic and Manchester United. When a Charlton defender was injured, the team did not have any oxygen on site to provide medical attention. Luckily, Manchester United’s team had oxygen available to treat the injured player. Had oxygen not been readily available during the time of the injury, the player could have been in much more critical condition. Subsequently, the referee ended the game early since there was not enough oxygen left to continue the game (should another player get injured). This violates the FA’s rules regarding provision of medical assistance. While Charlton was fined, the greater issue at hand is that the FA was not able to prevent the situation in the first place. Women’s soccer is not yet mainstream and so if the FA is not able to ensure teams are meeting basic requirements now, then the prospect of women’s soccer going mainstream in England can be a frightening scenario if this level of disorganization continues.

Officiating

Another concern is the standard of officiating in women’s games. Refereeing is always a point of contention in soccer and often adds flavor and excitement to the game in a way that is needed. However, there are certain calls that are out of question and it is quite obvious how they should be addressed. If the overall officiating of a game is poor, it can be frustrating for fans, players, and managers. In fact, poor officiating can even be a detriment to the safety of players. When Chelsea’s Drew Spence tackled Arsenal’s Kim Little, it left Little with a broken leg but only left Spence with a yellow card. Unsophisticated instances like these question the FA’s credibility and whether they are making an effort to establish professionalism in all aspects of the sport. Without this, women’s football in England will suffer if it reaches heightened mainstream-like success after the World Cup this summer.

Fighting These Challenges

To tackle the various issues that exist within English women’s soccer, the FA announced a new “Gameplan for Growth.” This framework and strategic initiative stands to strengthen the league and overall support for women’s football. It will focus on “developing talent and infrastructure, increasing the number of diversity of women’s coaches, referees and administrators and changing perceptions and social barriers to taking part.”[1]

Aside from the overall excitement for women’s soccer, money still remains an important factor for increasing the durability of the soccer league and making it a viable career option for women. Unequal pay for women continues to be persistent problem. However, recently, there have been many positive advances in reducing this inequity in english women’s soccer. For example, in the Women’s Super League, all teams in the top tier of women’s football will now offer players full-time, professional contracts. This will increase their salaries to £35,000 ($45,000/€40,000) a year. Additionally, as part of their Equality FC Campaign, Lewes FC has become the first professional / semi-professional team to pay the women’s team the same as the men’s team. Lewes FC director Jacquie Agnew comments, “By committing to paying our women’s and men’s teams equally, and providing equal resource for coaching, training and facilities, we hope to spark a change across the UK that will help put an end to the excuses for why such a deep pay disparity has persisted in our sport.”[2]

 

Sources:

[1] Stevens, Tom. “’Women’s Football Needs to Stand on Its Own’ – Readers on the FA’s New Plans.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Mar. 2017, www.theguardian.com/football/2017/mar/21/womens-football-needs-to-stand-on-its-own-readers-on-the-fas-new-plans.

[2] Christenson, Marcus. “Lewes FC Become First Professional Club to Pay Women and Men Equally.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 July 2017, www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jul/12/lewes-fc-first-club-equal-pay-men-women.