Women’s football: What main issues should the UK government’s review consider?

Women's Football UK government review

The UK government has announced it will launch an in-depth review of domestic women’s football later this year.

According to sports minister Nigel Huddleston, the aim of the review is to help close this gap with the men’s game and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport says it will look at developing women’s football at both elite and grassroots level.  

The women’s game has gone from strength to strength of late and there is much to look forward to in the near future –– starting with the European Championships in England this summer. 

But nonetheless, there remains an abundance of questions concerning women’s football that are in desperate need of consideration.

Should the recent rise in attendances prompt more women’s matches to be played at larger venues? How will tournament prize money be distributed so as to ensure more parity in conjunction with the equivalent men’s competitions? And how should those in power set about fixing a discriminatory culture, that fails to provide equal opportunities for girls seeking to get involved with football? 

GiveMeSport Women assesses these three topics in further detail and determines how appropriate action could have welcome consequences for the women’s game. 

Bigger stadiums = bigger reward

Barcelona have proven unequivocally that there is a huge demand for women’s football. 

Indeed, the Spanish side have smashed the all-time women’s football attendance record twice within the last month at the famous Camp Nou. First, for El Clasico, where 91,553 fans watched Barcelona thrash Real Madrid 5-2 –– and then last week, which saw 91,648 witness another mesmerising display against Wolfsburg in the Champions League semi-finals. 

These are not isolated occasions, either. Elsewhere, PSG Women marked their highest ever attendance as 27,262 watched the French side knock Bayern Munich out of Europe at the Parc des Princes. 

In the UK, more than 15,000 were at Windsor Park to watch Northern Ireland play the Lionesses in a Women’s World Cup qualifier. 

Even the lower tiers of English football have attracted record crowds recently. In the Women’s Championship earlier this month, 5,752 people made the trip to Ashton Gate for Liverpool’s match against Bristol City. 

There have long been excuses made regarding why women’s teams are not afforded the right to play at the club’s principal stadiums, yet these attendance figures prove that any attempt to discredit people’s interest in the women’s game is unfounded. 

It must be recognised that this interest is there and that hosting more women’s matches at bigger stadiums is a necessary step in the continual growth of women’s football. 

Given the size of the Camp Nou –– the largest sports stadium in Europe — there must be faith placed in the potential for enticing women’s fixtures to lure big crowds. 

At present, the majority of players are forced to play in small grounds, with inadequate facilities and no opportunity to create a sizeable atmosphere. 

The UK boasts some of the best stadiums in the world: Wembley, the Emirates, Old Trafford, and Anfield for example. All were designed for the purpose of football –– so let’s give women’s teams more chances to use them. 

Eyes on the prize-money 

When it was announced that prize money for the Women’s FA Cup was set to receive a ten-fold increase, many saw it as a momentous, yet long overdue step in the right direction. 

Indeed, it was something that had long been called for by players, teams and fans. New funds of around £3 million will be made available, according to the FA, with a ‘disproportionate amount’ of this sum handed to lower-league teams. 

Yet, despite the necessary bump in FA Cup payments, the issue is far from solved and there remains an astronomical difference in prize money for men’s and women’s competitions in the UK. 

The men’s FA Cup prize money still sits at five times that of the women’s competition –– hardly something a competition that professes to be ‘magical’ can write home about. 

There’s even more disparity when it comes to international competitions. The next men’s football World Cup will have a prize fund of £335 million –– compared to the women’s tournament, where it is just £46 million. 

As for the upcoming European Championships, things do appear slightly better. UEFA have doubled the minimum payout for teams competing from €300,000 (£252,000) to €600,000 (£504,000). 

The overall prize pot stands at €16m (£13.5m) –– a sizeable figure, but still some £20m less than Euro 2020 last year, where the fund stood at €37m (£31.5m). 

So, though the gap may be closing somewhat when it comes to prize money disparity, there is still a long way to go. 

Fixing the culture 

As much as making immediate improvements in elite women’s football is necessary, long-term growth will only be sustained by fixing the existing culture at grassroots level. 

For many girls growing up, the chance to take part in a game of football was a rarity –– in some instances, it may even have been actively discouraged. 

Some of the world’s best female players have even admitted they were unaware that playing professional football was even possible when they were younger. 

Barcelona star Caroline Graham-Hansen revealed that she never knew a career playing football was possible until she was a teenager and that she used to play with her local boy’s team in Norway. Now, she is playing in front of crowds totalling 90,000 plus. 

The FA has finally started to take action and has launched the ‘Let Girls Play’ campaign. It aspires to reach 90 percent of schools in England by 2024 and is intent on making sure young girls are given the opportunities to play football both during and outside of school. 

The next step 

Huddleston has stressed that women’s football is a “growing force” right now. 

“The time is right for a thorough review of the women’s game to ensure all is being done to support its further growth,” he said. 

The announced review of the women’s game is a pleasing step in the right direction. The next stage, therefore, is not just to identify these issues, but to act on them.

News Now - Sport News