Project 2023: A five-point plan to boost women’s football in England | Women’s football

In 2017, the Football Association launched its Gameplan for Growth for women‘s football. It was a strategy that set out plans and goals for the development of women’s football from the top down. Three years on the FA had achieved all the goals: double attendance, double the fanbase, reach the world top three in all England age groups and put England’s senior women’s team in good stead for the 2023 World Cup.

Now we are two years into the new strategy, titled Positive Change. The objectives have already been achieved, England’s success at the Euro has confirmed the ambition to win a major tournament. The resulting momentum continues to flow and the World Cup, which will generate even more interest, is only 10 months away. There’s no better opportunity to accelerate the growth and development of the game, and to safeguard its future. But what are the key areas to address and what results should have been achieved when the 2023-24 WSL season begins next September?

Access to school

Three days after England’s 2-1 loss to Germany in the Euro final, the Lionesses came together and wrote an open letter to prime minister candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak urging them to s commit to giving access to football to all girls in the country. each school. The FA’s ambition is for this to be achieved by 2024. However, Truss’ promise to “investigate what is preventing schools from providing the recommended minimum of two hours of physical education per week” is fine. short of a commitment to match these ambitions. Schools are chronically underfunded and it is not enough to put the responsibility on individual schools. The government must be pressured to increase support for school sports, without imposing cuts elsewhere. Truss is considering abandoning plans to introduce an independent regulator for football, but it is essential that the review of women’s football and its findings are not pushed aside. A central part of this review should examine how school and college sports could be transformed by legislation similar to Title IX in the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1972 which prohibits sex discrimination in any school or educational program receiving a federal funding.

Target for September 2023: Each school provides equal access for boys and girls to play football, and football is played in all single-sex schools.

Full time referees

The FA’s new strategy does not commit to full-time referees for women’s professional football. This, however, is essential to the development of officiating in the WSL and the Women’s Championship. Full-time professional leagues deserve full-time professional referees. The decisions are regularly criticized, with the broadcast rights agreement putting the decisions in the spotlight more than ever, and the referees are disappointed, but the lack of commitment to full-time contracts. Giving umpires time to hone their craft and develop at the same pace as rapidly growing professional and full-time teams is key to closing the gap.

Target for September 2023: Full-time referees in the top two divisions.

Referee Louise Saunders and her assistants Ceri Williams and Magdalena Golba lead Arsenal and Tottenham players to the Emirates in May 2022. Photograph: Action Plus Sports Images/Alamy

Protect the leagues

The FA said it had committed to transferring ownership of the WSL to its own company in January and rebuffed advances from private equity firms seeking to buy the fledgling league. Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has expressed her desire for the Premier League to take over management of the WSL. With the future of the league at stake, it is important that, by the start of the 2023-24 season, enough has been done to protect the future of the league and enshrine the fundamentals that will allow it to grow. democratically and sustainably. and evenly.

The involvement of supporters in the management of clubs and leagues should be on the agenda. Leagues must be protected against profits. Every effort should be made to ensure that the top of the pyramid is not cut off from amateur and grassroots play. The leagues should be expanded and the winners of the National League North and South should not participate in playoffs for a single place in the championship. League broadcast and sponsorship money must disproportionately benefit the game’s roots, while allowing for continued growth at the top. Minimum and maximum salaries that provide stability for players and allow teams to remain internationally competitive, without separating the best from the rest, must be taken into account.

Target for September 2023: The WSL expanded to 14 teams and promoted two clubs each season to the Championship. Safeguards in place to protect WSL from profits.

Develop community projects

There needs to be a significant expansion of women’s football projects in local communities. The FA have championed this work through programs such as the Wildcats, but clubs also need to embrace this role and consider how they are reversing the impact that the professionalisation of their academy and scouting systems has had on the demographics of these academies.

Target for September 2023: More ethnic minority players in England’s academic system and pathways.

Boost attendance

In 2020, the average WSL attendance was 3,092 fans. By 2024, the FA’s ambition is to increase that number to 6,000. Almost doubling attendance sounds ambitious, but when the existing bar is so low, it’s quite modest. This objective must be achieved this season at least. Stirring up competition between teams over who will become the first to sell their main stadium should be a priority. The huge increase in subscription and ticket sales across the pyramid reflects the opportunity before us. Arsenal’s success in selling more than 50,000 tickets for the first of their six games at the Emirates shows how quickly the numbers can change if the job is done.

Target for September 2023: WSL average attendance of at least 6,000 people.

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