Things are changing in women’s football – but is it just a clone of the men’s game?

A football groundFrom showing games on mainstream TV to featuring in the sports pages of newspapers, a lot has happened in women’s football in the last 5 years. In a country obsessed by football the women’s game is beginning to gain the recognition it deserves.

I have long believed that equality of pay would be the best way to get the football business to focus on promoting the women’s game. Change the economics and there is an incentive to stimulate the demand – generating gate receipts, TV rights and brand endorsement. I admit there is a long way to go!

So on the face of it the FA creating a women’s Elite Tier 1 league has to be good right? There are two key qualification to be part of this league beyond skills. Teams must pay their players (minimum contracts of 16 hours a week) and have a training academy. It will become a professional league. And generally this would be something I would welcome. Clubs should pay women for the work they do and train the next generation.

There is, however, a catch. There are many women’s teams currently at the top of the game that do not have professional players, nor do they have an academy system in place. They have got there through grit and determination and unwavering support from their club. They will no longer be able to participate at the top of their game. Clubs like Yeovil FC need to raise £350,000 in four weeks to meet new WSL criteria.

In creating this super league, the FA has failed to take into account that the history and development of the women’s game, because of inequality, is different. Up until now, an unintended positive consequence of long-term discrimination in the game is that clubs of all sizes have competed equally. Powered by volunteer teams like Yeovil Town Ladies have risen to the top. Now they are about to lose recognition of the hard work they have put in – a double discrimination whammy!

This is the FA being lazy and uncreative, just replicating the men’s game structure means they end up with a sport and a ’market’ that does not reflect that the culture and shape of the women’s game to-date. It also creates a new inequality – rich vs poor. The work that will go into creating an Elite Tier 1 will, in the medium term, begin to stimulate an interest in the game that is good for women’s sport. So why take such a sledgehammer approach that pushes a team out the door for being poor rather than supporting the club to move to a position where they can pay their players and create an academy.

The FA could phase in the rules and support the clubs to get sponsorship (they are elite athletes at the top of their game after all). The FA could sort this. Easily. If it wanted to.

If you wish to support Yeovil Town Ladies Crowdfunder, the link is here.

* Laura Willoughby MBE is a Lib Dem member in Islington

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Change the economics and there is an incentive to stimulate the demand

    But what if the demand simply isn’t out there to be stimulated?

  • I have been struggling to find TV coverage of the women’s world cup qualifiers. on free-to-air tv. Have found 1 England match so far on the BBC red button service but not Wales. How is interest going to be stimulated like this?

  • The FA didn’t want to support Women’s Football when they effectively banned it in 1921 and have moved at the pace of a geriatric snail ever since. The game as a whole is awash with money so that shouldn’t be a problem. As well as being lazy and uncreative, the FA is being mean as well.

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