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| 3 minutes read

What now for women's football?

To the relief of many, the Premier League resumed on 17 June 2020, with Aston Villa and Sheffield United kicking things off with goalless draw. After the 100-day hiatus, video assistant referee (VAR) was also back on form, controversially denying the Blades a goal when Aston Villa's keeper carried Norwood's free kick behind the line. Before kick off, there was a minute's silence for those who have died as a result of corona virus pandemic and players and officials took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was, unquestionably, a symbolic moment for sport.

The match was played behind closed doors at Villa Park; with around 300 people inside the 42,785 seater stadium. The remainder of the season's fixtures will follow suit, sans spectators. The lack of footfall will inevitably have a financial impact on clubs' revenues and the absence of a cheering crowd will no doubt take away some of the sport's charm; but broadcasting contracts will be honoured, and have even extended, with 33 of the League's remaining fixtures to be broadcast by free-to-air providers, including Sky Pick and Amazon Prime Video. Ensuring that as many supporters as possible are able to enjoy the games from the comfort of their home.

The same cannot be said for women's football.

Unlike the Premier League, the top women's league, the Women's Super League (WSL), was officially terminated on 25 May 2020. As with the men's leagues, there has been a mixed response to women's football across Europe as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. France's Division I Feminine and Spain's Primera División de La Liga de Fútbol Femenino, have cancelled their leagues. But other countries have recommenced their women's fixtures, with Germany's Frauen Bundesliga being the first major women's league to restart after the covid-19 postponement, on 29 May 2020.

The return of the German women's league was largely made possible by the aid of a solidarity fund for testing funded by some of the Germany's richest men's clubs, and a strict hygiene and testing protocol.

As in Germany, many of the top UK women's teams are branches of the country's richest men's football clubs - clubs that have enthusiastically supported Project Restart. Despite their deep pockets, underfunding remains a constant issue for women's football: the vast majority of WSL clubs operate with significant financial losses.

A range of models are developing across the League; some clubs remain heavily reliant on funding from the associated men's club, although others are more self-sustaining. Manchester City's accounts for 2018-19 show that 79.2% of the club's income came from sponsorship, a move that more women's teams may have to replicate as play moves behind closed doors.

It is likely, however, that another impact of the coronavirus will be to shrink the pool of potential sponsorship further, with companies that previously wanted to invest in women's football no longer financially able to do so. Furthermore, with the 2019/20 season cancelled, there is much less opportunity for club's to promote their sponsors' brands, which - unfortunately - may make investing in women's football less attractive.

It has also been suggested that women's teams could look to crowd funding for investment and support. Although this route may help ease financial difficulties in the short term, it is unlikely to address some of the structural inequalities permeating the profession.

The Covid-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on sport in general, but with a cancelled season and uncertainties over sponsorship opportunities, the future of women's football in the UK is looking uncertain. This is particularly disappointing given the terrific strides that women's football has made over the past fifteen years, growing in profile and popularity. Hopefully innovative solutions can be sought to keep the momentum going.

… another impact of the coronavirus will be to shrink the pool of potential sponsorship further, with companies that previously wanted to invest in women's football no longer financially able to do so.

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