Pay Cuts, No Plan to Restart Play — Women’s Football Faces Pandemic Setback
A global union of football players, Fifpro, conducted a survey on how women footballers have fared in the Covid19 pandemic, only to find that a majority of players across 62 countries have been left in the dark about their career prospects, while their male peers have gone back to work..
In 69% of the countries surveyed, players’ unions reported communication from clubs and leagues to women footballers was “poor” or “very poor”; in 47% of countries, players’ unions reported women footballers had their wages cut or suspended; in 40% of countries, unions reported that players did not receive any mental or physical support; and in 29% of countries, unions said women’s team players were not included in the return-to-play protocols football federations had devised for men’s teams.
Earlier this year, Fifpro had warned of an “existential threat” facing women’s football due to the Covid19 pandemic. With women’s football already being an unstable industry, where players, clubs, and leagues routinely go out of business for lack of sponsors and revenue, the uncertainty dealt by the pandemic served as a fatal blow to many players, the union said. Due to women’s football being in nascent stages around the world, with mostly amateur leagues and only a few professional leagues, women footballers have to deal with issues male footballers don’t. These include “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 workers’ rights,” according to a report Fifpro published in April. This “leaves many female players — some of whom were already teetering on the margins — at great risk of losing their livelihoods.”
The report also found clubs often provide women footballers with housing, health insurance, and food, as opposed to financial compensation, which introduced uncertainty and anxiety among players in the Covid19 pandemic, made worse by the lack of communication between clubs and players.
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While all sport was suspended globally at the start of the Covid19 pandemic, women’s football will continue to be disproportionately affected, experts warn. Far from the pre-pandemic promises of growth predicted by football associations for women’s football, March saw indefinite suspensions of England’s two women’s football leagues, while plans to restart the men’s leagues were publicly discussed at length. And whatever economic downturn the Covid19 pandemic caused for men’s leagues could ultimately mean havoc for the women’s leagues, as most elite women’s football is an offshoot of the men’s clubs and, possibly, the first to go during budget cuts.
For an industry that was already struggling to find its footing, women’s football may not be able to get back up again after the Covid19 pandemic, unless all the actors that sustain these clubs and leagues — football associations, brand and television sponsors, and viewers — show up to support the teams and players and create the same level of urgency fans felt for men’s football to start again.