Global player organization FIFPro has released the results of a new survey of 62 member unions to assess the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on women’s soccer. According to the survey, the pandemic has exposed the “fragility of the women’s football ecosystem” as younger leagues, scarcer opportunities, uneven sponsorship, lack of solid contracts, and other areas of investment that have been lacking for years create a very shaky ground upon which to maintain the women’s game during a crisis.
As many female players in many countries do not have official pro status, they have no recourse to access resources that could help mitigate the impact of the pandemic, such as health care or wage relief. FIFPro reported that only 16% of the 62 leagues surveyed classify their women’s league as professional. Even players who do have contracts face uncertainty; 24% of unions said female players’ club contracts were terminated or altered, and nearly half of unions said female player club salaries were reduced or eliminated altogether.
In terms of COVID-related support, 34% of unions said clubs have offered some kind of physical well-being support to their female players, while just 16% said clubs offered any kind of mental health support. 40% said that clubs in their country are simply not providing any kind of support.
Some countries aren’t even talking to their female players about what’s going on. Only one union said that the quality of communication between leagues and clubs and their players was excellent. 69% said communication has been very poor to poor, with players receiving no information on decisions or outcomes or not being involved in the decision-making process. At the federation level, 52% of unions reported that their national federations have not been communicating with their women’s national team players about the impact of COVID-19 on their game.
On the flip side, some countries have demonstrated better pathways forward, with Italy and Argentina continuing to invest in the women’s game: Italy announced in June that Serie A Femminile would finally go fully pro in 2022, and Argentina announced a five-year plan to increase pro contracts at every Primera A club, as well as adding U-16 teams to every club by 2022 and U-14 teams by 2023. The report also pointed to NWSL and their collaboration with the NWSL Players Association in putting on the Challenge Cup as a positive case study; not only did the NWSLPA have input on the tournament, but they secured guaranteed contracts for every player and insurance coverage for the 2020 calendar year.
FIFPro warns that this year may see increased numbers of female players being forced to retire early as they have little or no support from their clubs or federations. They commended FIFA’s decision to release all forward operational cost payments to member associations, with the stipulation that 50% of released funds must be allocated to women’s soccer. The key is ensuring that these funds actually make it to the women’s game; whether FIFA will provide any kind of meaningful oversight in that area remains to be seen.