At Wembley Stadium yesterday the FA announced a new five-year plan for the development of women’s football in this country; focusing on adding a second tier to the Women’s Super League and increasing overall participation in the sport to help make the game more professional.
Other elements of the plan include the introduction of an Elite Performance Unit to develop the country’s most talented girls and funding central contracts for England senior players.
The panel at the press conference announcing these plans included FA General Secretary Alex Horne, England international Steph Houghton, Head of National Game Kelly Simmons and Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport .
The rise in prominence of women’s football has been accelerated by Team GB reaching the quarter-finals at the Olympics and England qualifying for the 2013 World Cup in Sweden, finishing top of the group.
The WSL has also gone from strength to strength, with ESPN providing exclusive television coverage of the league in its second season; and despite Arsenal Ladies winning the title again, there are signs that the league is becoming increasingly more competitive.
This all feels like the FA is taking advantage of a watershed moment in women’s football; capitalising on interest levels being at their peak and a desire to take the sport out of the shadow of the men’s game.
It appears to be somewhat emulating the examples of France and Germany, who have both invested heavily in their respective women’s set-ups in recent years; with France currently holders of the Under-17 World Cup and the Germans beginning their commitment to the sport 20 years ago.
England are currently ranked eighth in the world and the aim is to challenge the two European heavyweights, but this is a great challenge in itself and requires the country’s leading clubs to commit to large amounts of funding for their women’s set-ups.
The ultimate ambition is allow the country’s elite clubs to turn from semi-professional to professional, but Horne himself was unclear as to how they would achieve this outcome; and it would be impossible to convince all 92 clubs to invest such an amount in a separate women’s satellite club.
It is this reluctance to invest too much that is surely holding England back from reaching the pinnacle of the women’s game; with Powell herself stating how beneficial it would be to have players training every day before meeting up for international duty.
Therefore, the only way for the FA to achieve considerable success from these plans is to get the biggest clubs on board.
In some respects this is already occurring, with Arsenal being the best example of its commitment to the women’s game by investing £500,000 each year to help make them the dominant force in this country.
Manchester City also sees the many benefits of having a successful women’s side, after recently announcing an official link up with the satellite team that will allow the side to use the facilities and coaches which the men’s club has at their disposal.
These factors will ensure the club is in the FA’s thoughts when deciding which teams will enter the expanded two-tier WSL that will be enforced ahead of the 2014 season.
Despite potentially not being able to get all the major clubs on board, major brands are now seeing women’s football as commercially viable in its own right; and the FA will be able to continue further raising the profile of the sport, securing the relevant funding to ensure that the legacy of 2012 continues.
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