Women's Sport: What does the coronavirus mean for the future of women's sport?

It is a weird time in the world of sport, with nearly all events postponed for the foreseeable future until the coronavirus pandemic comes under control. It is right and essential that health comes first, but at a key time in the growth of women’s sport, it could have a huge impact.

Take the women’s Euros, due to be held next year, their future now hangs in the balance – they could be moved a few days to follow the men’s tournament or be moved entirely to 2022. It isn’t an easy decision. If both tournaments took place in the summer it’s impossible to know if it would increase or decrease interest. Equally a move to 2022 could damage hard-earned momentum within the women’s game.

It is an unenviable task, but the fact that UEFA didn’t announce the tournament’s future when they moved the men’s does makes it look like what will happen to the women’s is an afterthought, even if that isn’t the case. The longer they drag their feet, the less of a priority it seems to outsiders.

As we are seeing with athletes speaking out about the struggle of Olympic uncertainty, dealing with the unknown is hard. For everyone across the country, the pandemic is transforming and limiting the way people can work like never before. Governing bodies have the power to limit this for players and athletes by making quick decisions. Even one less unknown is surely a benefit to players, even if that is regarding a tournament that is a year away.

On a local, and perhaps more serious level you have to wonder what the impact of this uncertainty will be on clubs. A report in The Times found that over 70 per cent of players in the FA Women’s Championship, the tier below the WSL, could be out of their contracts before the end of the season. Whether clubs will have the resources to renew contracts and continue playing staff and players, only time will tell.

It’s not just football. For cricket, after a hugely successful T20 World Cup that saw record attendances, the ECB’s new tournament The Hundred could be in jeopardy if the pandemic doesn’t come under control quickly given the small weather window for cricket in the UK.

With equal prize money for men and women, world cup stars from around the world joining the league and a new platform for the women’s teams, whatever momentum that the tournament could have capitalised on may vanish.

It is a difficult time for all sport, men’s and women’s, but as the sporting world seeks a way forward amidst all the unknowns federations and governing bodies need to factor in the women’s leagues and teams so that they don’t get left behind. It was great to see the WSL and Women’s Championship included in announcements postponing football leagues. 

It is naive to think that this pandemic won’t change things but it is on governing bodies to support their teams where they can so that this change isn’t irreparably damaging. Just as the EFL is creating a package to support its teams through these trying times, so should the governing bodies support women’s teams where needed.

It is on the media too. If we keep telling sportswomen’s stories and reporting on women’s sports hopefully when life does start to return to normal people won’t have lost interest and that hard-earned momentum from the many world cups and media initiatives can continue to build.

Who knows what the world will look like when this is over but we can all try and make it one where women’s sport continues to grow. 

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