Sports Gazette

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

Coronavirus presents an ‘existential threat’ to women’s football

Posted on 16 April 2020 by Alexandra Ibaceta

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FIFPro, the global player’s union for professional footballers, has warned that the current pandemic is likely to pose “an almost existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry.”

“Due to its less established professional leagues, low salaries, narrower scope of opportunities, uneven sponsorship deals and less corporate investment, the fragility of the women’s football eco-system is exposed by the current situation,” the report added.

The growth of women’s football seen before the coronavirus outbreak could all be erased if there isn’t a limit in damage and, more importantly, if there isn’t a more solid foundation built.

Not all clubs have a cash rich men’s club to help with some of their finances and particularly the clubs that don’t, maybe even some that do, fear they will become insolvent due to the this crisis.

If the club cannot keep afloat, little can they do for their players who could have less than enough on their football contract to stand on their own without the competition.

“The lack of written contracts, the short-term duration of employment contracts, the lack of health insurance and medical coverage, and the absence of basic worker protections and worker’s rights leaves many female players—some of whom were already teetering on the margins—at great risk of losing their livelihoods,” the report said.

But this struggle isn’t new for most of the players, many have worked a second job in the past to support themselves, and some still do.

“The majority of players have had experience with previous clubs on the verge of bankruptcy or uncertainty around wages at some point in their careers.”

“The absence of basic worker protections and worker’s rights leaves female players vulnerable – in the current crisis and beyond.

“While these standards are applicable for all players, they are particularly relevant for women’s football due to the current crisis.

“We have to protect players as people and as workers and avoid mass unemployment and recession.”

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Psychological and physical effects could prove crucial when competitions resume.

“Maintaining their fitness while in lockdown is challenging, and without proper facilities or the ability to compete against others it is impossible to be match fit,” it said.

“Yet they know when football begins again, they’ll be expected to perform at an elite standard. This adds mental and physical pressure to an already challenging and stressful situation.

“While little research exists today about the physiological implications of such a dramatic change in mental, emotional, physical and social environments for professional female athletes, early insights show significant changes in menstrual cycles, with more frequent and severe symptoms, and changes in cycle length and pattern which adds to the stress of the situation.

“Changes in training load, diet, and sleep disturbances can also add to these disturbances.”

There are still players that get little to no updates on their league and club developments.

These players are left in the dark frequently in a foreign country separated from their family, friends and support system. The mental well-being of these players is pivotal.

Priority in player care, health, safety and well-being should be considered in all decision-making processes.

“We must establish, implement and enforce global industry standards for working conditions in women’s football to protect the players and the future growth of the industry”

FIFPro calls for “innovation and intervention from across the private sector and public sectors, from policymakers and governing bodies, to broadcasting companies and sponsors.”

They urge to “use this crisis as an opportunity to address shortcomings in professional women’s football and establish global labour standards for the working conditions of players.”