Women’s football looks to Germany and US amid pandemic on anniversary of World Cup

The day it was announced to the rest of the world, she and her teammates had 15 minutes to accept the news before a statement was made public.

But Young’s story has a happier ending. Four weeks after the initial decision, AFC Fylde turned the corner and next season, whenever possible, the women’s team will continue to play in the National Premier League North.

“A lot has changed,” said Young who, as part of the restructuring, will become co-manager, alongside Kim Turner.

“The club recovers basic finances, in terms of league fees, training facilities, but there is no funding for expenses. We are trying to raise funds; we are looking for sponsors and we hope we can catch that money elsewhere.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The backlash of what has happened to us, and we are at level three, has been an eye-opener. This game has evolved so much in the last 10 years.”

Twelve months ago, France organized a Women’s World Cup which propelled women’s football into the sporting current. Broadcast worldwide, the competition surpassed audience figures and dominated newsletters, transforming the stars of the United States National Women’s Team, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, into household names far beyond from their country of origin.
But the momentum gained during France 2019, when the USWNT climbed to a fourth world record title, was it lost? With its less established leagues and sponsorship and dissemination agreements generally lower than those of men’s football, how much will women’s football suffer?
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Rapinoe celebrates scoring his team's first goal in the quarterfinal of the 2019 Women's World Cup against France.

Uncertainty is not new to women’s football, nor is inequality. It is the most threatened who are always the most exposed. And France 2019 has never been perfect.

Not only did the tournament highlight the fact that women’s football was at a different stage of development from country to country, but it also highlighted the differences between male and female tournaments. the marketing of the two flagship events at a cash price.
Megan Rapinoe: USWNT captain, World Cup winner and social justice activist
And in the moments after the end of the final in Lyon, FIFA president Gianni Infantino had hoots at the Olympic Stadium and chants of “equal pay” in support of the players’ struggle. ‘USWNT for Pay Equity. This battle is still ongoing. Footballers around the world would still have fought on many fronts even if a pandemic had not paralyzed societies.

As each country’s Covid-19 experience is different, so is the response and the speed at which a return to a semblance of normalcy is attempted. After all, it is primarily a public health problem.

The same week that the Football Federation of England ended the season for its top two female leagues, the German Frauen Bundesliga resumed behind closed doors.
It is not that the German leagues were not affected financially by Covid-19. Last month, Kicker magazine reported that 13 of the top 36 clubs were facing insolvency.
Most importantly, four of the country’s main clubs – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen – have made significant contributions to a solidarity fund for the men’s third division and the Frauen Bundesliga, which covers the cost of the coronavirus. test.

Fritz Keller, president of the German Football Federation (DFB), said that by resuming the season, the Frauen Bundesliga “was playing a pioneering role in international women’s football”.

Barrett (front, r) tries to fight off Wolfsburg & # 39; s Joelle Wedemeyer (l).
Amber Barrett and Lara Dickenmann participated in the first game of the league recovery after a two-month hiatus while their respective teams, FC Koln and Wolfsburg, played behind closed doors at the AOK Stadion on May 29.

The two talk about their anxiety about coming back and how the management of club health and well-being has allayed initial concerns.

“This [the resumption of the Frauen Bundesliga] is going to do huge things for women’s football in Germany, but it will also do huge things for women’s football in general, “Barrett told CNN Sport.

“It just shows that there is an intention there. If we want women’s football to be taken seriously, we have to take it seriously.”

The players were regularly tested and were gradually reintroduced to contact the training. “We weren’t allowed to touch all the equipment; everything was sterilized,” said Barrett of the first 10 days of training for FC Koln while distancing himself socially.

There were quirks, Barrett admits, because the team was divided into four locker rooms on match day, substitutes were expected to distance themselves socially and no embraces were allowed during goal celebrations in a match than the reigning triple champion Wolfsburg won 4-0.

FC Koln & # 39; s Eunice Beckmann (r) evades Wolfsburg & # 39; s Anna Blässe.

Confused by the way the players ‘voices were amplified by the lack of fans, Dickenmann watched the match from the substitutes’ bench. The return of the league is positive for her and her teammates, says Switzerland, but there are concerns for the teams that are not as well funded as the two best teams in the league, Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich.

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“The gap between the best teams and the last place teams has widened further and we have a lot of matches,” said Dickenmann. Thirty-eight games will be played in the Frauen Bundesliga in four weeks, with the season ending June 28.

“We have a great team, but the other teams don’t have that luxury and, for them, it’s going to be difficult to spend these weeks without injuries.”

Although Germany has shown what is possible, some players are concerned about the prospect of playing behind closed doors. “Our recognition comes from the number of people who attend our games,” Christina Macfarlane, Ada Hegerberg, who plays in French Women’s Division 1, which was canceled this season, told CNN last month.

Charlie Dobres is the marketing director of Lewes FC, an English fan-owned club which claims to be the first and only egalitarian club in the world. Planning to resume football in England continues, he said, and the club assumes that Lewes’ male and female teams will play behind closed doors early next season.

Playing in the championship, the second level of English women’s football, without a lucrative broadcasting contract to boost the coffers, Lewes FC Women needs income for the day.

Over the past two seasons, the number of spectators at Lewes’ women’s games has quadrupled to an average of approximately 600 per game.

But while Dobres admits he is extremely worried about the future of women’s football, he also sees this crisis as an opportunity and has called for next season’s matches in the top two female divisions of English football to be broadcast live at television. The Frauen Bundesliga, for example, is broadcast in the clear in the UK and is also broadcast in Scandinavia and Mexico.

“Instead of Covid-19 being an event at the level of extinction, it could in fact be an incredible gateway to a whole new change in women’s football,” he told CNN Sport.

“If you have these sites in place, and the broadcast structure in place, and there is no crowd, then the argument simply says that if you are going to show a male match in X, Y or Z at three hours and use exactly the same infrastructure, the same protocols and the same everything, especially with the same available audience, then play women’s games also on the same day.

“It opens the door to bigger broadcast deals for women’s football in the future and the other crucial factor [is], since there is no live sport you can participate in, you have a captive audience at home. “

Project Restart, a term coined to describe the return of the giant that is the English Football League, has dominated so much in England that little air space has been given to know when or how the next season will start for leagues whose campaigns in progress have been completed.

“Our feeling is that, given all the massive publicity and support from the Premier League, we do not yet hear in these discussions exactly the same urgency to also start the best women’s football and it is interesting. depressing and interesting, and also incredibly easy. change, “says Dobres.

“It’s all a choice and it’s really a choice of the people who have the power. It’s not us; it’s not clubs or individual players. It’s the authorities, be it FIFA, FA, the government, etc., and to a certain extent the choice is also up to the big commercial players in the football world, broadcasters for example, and we want to influence this decision.

“We are really afraid that this will not happen. There is certainly a world, if you rely on past behavior, the most likely result is that women’s football will be diminished by this crisis and women’s football will be pushed back. “

“The next few months are a vision test. They are a test of the size of their vision. If you think that football must have absolute fairness and that this is your starting point, then all your actions and decisions result from it. . “

After the 2019 World Cup, FIFA has pledged to double its investment in women’s football over the next four years to $ 1 billion, and earlier this year it announced that it had distributed nearly 8.5 million dollars in solidarity funds to professional and local clubs for players who have finally played. World Cup of the year.

In a statement to CNN, Sarai Bareman, director general of FIFA women’s football, said that the governing body had “undertaken an extensive stakeholder consultation process to gather information on the impacts of the virus at all levels of the world.” women’s football”.

She added: “As football gradually resumes, we must work collectively with our members and all players in football to ensure that the momentum of women’s football is not lost.

“Collectively, we have the ability to ensure that the level of growth and momentum is maintained, if not increased, as football clubs in many countries begin to reopen their playing fields for players and staff.”

Barcelona forward Toni Duggan (R) celebrates during the Spanish League football match against Atletico.

Spain is the other major European power to register time in its best women’s league this season. For La Liga Iberdrola, it was the first season that it had sold its TV rights.

Speaking at a Soccerex webinar in May, a few days before the end of the La Liga Iberdrola season, Pedro Malabia, La Liga women’s football manager, said: “Our clubs, if the season ends like it is, we would lose TV rights alone, almost € 600,000 ($ 671,949), plus all commercial income, plus other income. “

It’s a lot of money for the women’s teams to lose. But, just like Liga Iberdrola studied the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States for strategies on how to build its brand – and successfully, when a world record of 60,739 was recorded for a club match Last year’s women’s championship as Atletico Madrid welcomed Barcelona – so he and other leagues could learn from the NWSL about how to adapt to the current climate.

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Last month, the NWSL announced that a 25-game tournament, the NWSL Challenge Cup 2020, will be played in Utah starting June 27, making it the first American sports league to return to action.

“It was really important to find a way to build on this momentum,” NSWL commissioner Lisa Baird told reporters, referring to the momentum created by the triumph of USWNT in France, and speaking before the publication of information that Rapinoe would not participate.

“We have an exciting format and [having] the best players in the league on the planet are giving us a chance to pick up that momentum, maybe not the way we thought it would, but in a good way. “

Tournament costs are covered by sponsorship and TV offers – CBS All Access will show the games, which will also be available worldwide via Twitch. Dell Loy Hansen, owner of Utah Royals FC, will provide accommodation and training facilities for the nine teams in the league

Lynsey Douglas, world female sport manager at sports industry analysis Nielsen Sports, believes the coming weeks are crucial for women’s sport.

“We see so much flexibility and innovation that we have never seen in sport … it’s a huge opportunity for women’s sport, to be on the same wavelength, on the same table when all these different rescheduling and ideas are coming up, “she told CNN Sport.

“The past few weeks have shown that women’s sport is really challenged and there is a danger that this opportunity will be potentially missed. It is important that in the coming weeks the main governing bodies, the major leagues, the clubs, look on women, sport and its place in it all.

“It should be an opportunity for women’s sport to stand out better, to position themselves on an equal footing, but now the reality is that there is a huge challenge that women’s sport can step back, be left out.”

“This is a major inflection point as to what will come of it and where we are in women’s sport.”

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