Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

How coronavirus has impacted women’s football

Posted on 29 March 2020 by Alexandra Ibaceta

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There is no end in sight and nothing can be planned with certainty, no one was prepared for a global pandemic to hit.

Women’s football’s momentum has been put to a stop with the spread of COVID-19.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s been happening.

Champions League 

This past week was supposed to see the first leg of the quarter-finals.

Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona (sold-out)

Arsenal vs PSG

Lyon vs Bayern Munich

Glasgow City vs Wolfsburg

The second leg was to be played on April 1st, but UEFA released a statement on March 17th stating that all competitions and matches have been put on hold.

Women and men’s Champions League finals have been postponed along with the Europa League final that were scheduled to be played in May. There has yet to be a decision on the rearranged dates.

As the outcome of domestic leagues is unpredictable, next season’s Champions League spots remain uncertain.

Euros 2021

This summer’s men’s Euros have been unavoidably postponed to 2021, leaving the women’s tournament with an unsettled future.

In the statement released from UEFA on March 17th it has no mention about the future of the women’s Euro except: “Decisions on dates for other UEFA competitions, whether club or national team for men or women, will be taken and announced in due course.”

The word “women” was only mentioned twice in the entire statement as pointed out by the The Athletic’s women’s football writer, Kieran Theivam.

There has been the debate whether there should be back to back Euros next year to have a summer full of football in Europe, particularly in England who would host the men’s semi-finals and final and the entirety of the women’s competition.

The men’s tournament would run June 11-July 11 which would overlap four days with the start of the women’s competition, July 7-August 1.

If the dates remain as they are, one semi-final at Wembley will take place the same day as the Lionesses’ opening match at Old Trafford.

Chelsea and Sweden captain, Magdalena Eriksson, spoke out about what should happen to the Euros.

This was well before the Olympics was moved to 2021.

Three European teams are set to feature in the games: Great Britain, Netherlands and Sweden. These nations would have minimal transition time between the Euros and Olympics.

All the variables seem to add up to one outcome- the postponement of the Women’s 2021 Euros.

With this, the international football calendar would be:

2021 Olympics + World Cup qualifiers + Potentially finishing Euro qualifiers

2022 Euros + World Cup Qualifiers

2023 World Cup

2024 Olympics

2025 Euros

This also puts into question if Phil Neville will still be England boss, his contract is set to expire in June 2021.

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His job was safe until the Euros, despite England having lost seven of their last eleven matches.

Could the postponement of the tournament be a way to make room for someone new?

If the European competition gets postponed to 2022 and Neville stays on as boss, the FA might not have a choice but to keep him until the 2023 World Cup because of the minimal transition time between each major tournament.

Should Neville keep the job until 2023 or should we see someone new take charge of the ever so talented England squad?

National League and below

The FA released a statement on March 26 concluding that:

“The FA and the leagues within tiers three to seven have reached a consensus to bring the season to an immediate end and all results will be expunged. This will mean no promotion or relegation of clubs between tiers three to seven.”

Meaning all football under the FAWSL and the FA Championship will be completely erased.

Expunge was possibly the nations most hated word that day.

Most responses to this announcement were negative, with most leagues reaching the end of the season already.

There has been no information about the fees that the FA charges clubs and players.

For example, each player pays a fee to the FA for every yellow and red card received, will that money be returned given that the record of those yellow and red cards being handed out will be expunged?

There are many clubs that were almost set for promotion, such as Sunderland Ladies who were 11 points clear at the top of the National League’s Northern Premier Division, with a game in hand, and had just about secured a spot in the Championship.

Despite the disappointment, Sunderland accepted the sudden finish to their season and now start to look forward.

Barnsley Women’s FC who play in Division 1 North of the National League were tied for first place with Leeds United on 38 points, but with three games remaining Barnsley looked set for promotion into the Premier Division.

The club released a statement accusing the FA of discriminating against women’s football since the men’s pyramid only suffered the same fate in tiers below the National League.

This argument can be controversial as the men’s National League has fully professional and semi-professional clubs, where the women’s Championship clubs are majority just semi-professional, much less lower tiers.

Maidstone United Women’s first team and development team where both set for promotion into South East Counties Womens League premier division and Kent division 1.

Both teams have an unbeaten season and a +96 goal difference between them.

With a lot of clubs taking this news bitterly, it seemed as if most leagues could have come to a better solution to promote and regulate clubs given that over half the season was already played.

Of course there are bigger matters to deal with than just lower tier football, but this decision perhaps negatively affected a lot more people than the FA realised.

With the season now expunged, “this will allow the game to move forward and to commence planning for next season,” as encouraged by the association.

FAWSL and FA Women’s Championship

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The FAWSL and FA Championship’s fate has yet to be decided. The FA is set on finishing both season’s, but wants the season to be done by early August.

The FA stated in a press conference held the day after they announced that the lower tiers were being expunged, that this is not the preferred choice of the top two tiers.

For the moment there will be no play at least until May, but it is likely that this will be further delayed.

WSL clubs are determined to finish this campaign as soon as it’s safe to do so.

The title and two champions league spots are long from being secured.

Manchester City are currently at the summit with just a one point lead over Chelsea and four points clear of Arsenal, though both have a game in hand over the leaders.

The relegation battle is no where near settled either.

Liverpool currently sit at the bottom. One point off from Birmingham City and three from Bristol City.

In the Championship, Aston Villa are six points clear in first ahead of Sheffield United.

For the financially struggling clubs of these leagues there will be no support available as reported by the Guardian.

Clubs must be ready to pay players until there has been a decision on the league, these women simply cannot afford to waive their salaries as the likes of Juventus men did.

A decision is being awaited by players, fans and clubs.