The coronavirus pandemic has already devastated the world of football.
Clubs are in uncomfortable financial situations, with a number of leagues being cancelled due to the uncertainty. France’s Ligue 1, the Netherlands’ Eredivisie and England’s League Two have all been voided, and eventually, women’s football in England was added to the list of casualties.
On Monday, the FA ended the season for the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship, confirming the decision with immediate effect. In a statement, they said: “Following overwhelming feedback from the clubs, the decision to bring an end to the 2019-20 season was made in the best interest of the women’s game.
“This will also enable clubs, the FA Women’s Super League & Women’s Championship Board and the FA to plan, prepare and focus on next season when football returns for the 2020-21 campaign.”
It brings an end to one of the most thrilling Super League seasons yet, with the title race wide open. League leaders Manchester City are just one point clear of Chelsea, while the Blues still had a game in hand. Reigning champions Arsenal were four points off the top, also with a game in hand in what was due to be a thrilling climax to the season.
But now, none of that will happen.
The FA are yet to decide what will happen in deciding the title, though it wouldn’t be a shock to see City prematurely awarded the trophy. There is also a big decision over who will be relegated to the Championship, with Bristol City, Birmingham City and bottom Liverpool separated by three points at the foot of the table.
The cancellation is a devastating blow for women’s football, an unfortunate reality that numerous leagues across the world have had to endure. 2019/20 had been a huge season for the women’s football in England, following the increased exposure and interest of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
It goes without saying that the momentum created by last summer’s tournament was capitalised and built on in style, with record attendances in the top flight. This season should be remembered for exactly that, though that will likely be marred by its cancellation and possibly controversial implications.
Financially, this could devastate some of the clubs. It’s been a year since Yeovil Town Ladies entered administration and were subsequently relegated from the Super League, following a ten-point deduction. The fear is that more clubs could follow suit across English football as a whole, and that simply cannot happen.
The biggest problem over the cancellation of women’s football in England is not about who will be crowned champions. It’s not about who will be relegated, who will qualify for the Champions League, or who could succumb to administration and bankruptcy.
It’s about the reputation of the women’s game.
Compare this situation to the men’s Premier League. Despite managers and players from several clubs testing positive for Covid-19 – including two new cases last week – the league’s plans to return to action with ‘Project Restart’ are going on as normal.
Despite a number of positive cases and over 36,000 deaths nationwide, the English top flight is on the verge of returning, albeit behind closed doors and possibly at neutral venues. The Premier League is eager to resume the season on 12th June- less than three weeks from now.
Something important to note is that different bodies are in charge of the respective leagues: The FA runs the Women’s Super League and Championship, though have no total authority over the men’s equivalent. They cannot control both the men’s and women’s game in the same manner, however influential they are.
But that is not an excuse.
“Why should the men’s game deserve more treatment and priority, while the women’s game is disregarded?”
How can the Premier League be all but certain to be resuming in the coming weeks, but the Women’s Super League is just cancelled? Why should the men’s game deserve more treatment and priority, while the women’s game is disregarded? Where is the sporting integrity and respect if the men return to the pitch, but the women do not?
It feels insulting to treat the two games differently, regardless of their contrasting levels of money, attendance and exposure. If there is any equality and respect for the game, the Premier League will follow suit and also be cancelled.
This is a huge blow to the women’s game, a costly strike to its integrity and status in this country. Women’s football doesn’t deserve to be treated differently: at the end of the day, we’re all playing the same game.