Jessy Parker-Humphreys looks at the reasoning behind the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship being brought to an end due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
In news that surprised absolutely no one, the Football Association confirmed on Monday that the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship would not be resumed.
In a statement, the FA said: “Following overwhelming feedback from the clubs, the decision to bring an end to the 2019/20 season was made in the best interest of the women’s game, and to enable clubs, the FA Women’s Super League & Women’s Championship Board and The FA to plan, prepare and focus on next season when football returns for the 2020/21 campaign.”
It had been widely reported for well over a week that clubs would be voting for the season to end. Reasons given varied from players having already mentally clocked out to the unrealistic cost that restarting the season would require.
While the decision to end the season will understandably come as a disappointment to fans, on balance, it is probably the right one.
The dogged attempts to resume the Premier League might make it seem like men’s football is more valued in this country. The fact is – of course it is. It is not a desirable reality, but it is one that has unavoidable material effects on the women’s leagues.
Elite women’s football is a lot more comparable to lower league men’s football in terms of pay and contract structure. Most women footballers will have one year contracts, while many in both the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship work other jobs to supplement their income.
Ending the league now gives players out of contract the opportunity to move on, as can be seen by announcements from Inessa Kaagman who will be leaving Everton and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk who will be leaving Liverpool. The clarity of the season finishing also allows players to pursue full-time income opportunities outside of football if necessary, without having the expectation of being called back to the training ground hovering over them.
The huge cost of testing, and potentially having to put players up in quarantine accommodation, is a burden that clubs are simply unable to take on board. The assumption that parent clubs could choose to pay if they were willing to invest more in their women’s game is not one that can be uniformly made across the top two leagues.
Not all parent clubs are in the Premier League, meaning their coffers are likely to not be as overflowing as might be imagined, and some women’s teams are not even affiliated with a men’s team. Durham Women’s parent company, for example, is Durham University. The financial burden of what restarting the women’s leagues might look like is more complicated than assuming the money must be there somewhere. The vast financial differentials between clubs mean pursuing a league restart could only serve to skew the women’s game more towards the super-club dominance that has already begun to exist.
Ending the season also releases some of the scheduling pressures facing the women’s game following tournaments delayed by coronavirus. With the Olympics now pushed back to 2021, and the Euros to 2022, there is every chance that international players will be expected to play three back-to-back international tournaments. Forcing back-to-back seasons on top of the intensity of summer competitions would only serve to risk injury and likely lower the quality of the game. At least now, players will have a proper break before what could be a punishing schedule to come.
Beyond all of this lies the assumption that the decision being taken within men’s football in England is the correct one. There has been disagreement across Europe’s top leagues about whether it is practical or desirable to restart football so soon, with France, Scotland and the Netherlands all agreeing to finish their men’s leagues.
Women’s football in England should not exist simply to mimic every decision made by the Premier League. Instead, it has an opportunity to create a different, and better, football environment within the country.
The discussions around restarting the Premier League have seen clubs appear to prioritise their financial wellbeing above the health concerns of their teams. With players like N’Golo Kante taking compassionate leave to protect themselves, it is hard not to feel slightly uncomfortable as the Premier League machine marches on towards a return.
For the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship, the decision made has clearly still come from a financial place – but it is one that surely sides more with player wellbeing. Taking those financial and personal considerations together, it is hard to see how any other one could have been made.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph