The shadow minister for sport, Alison McGovern, has criticised the Football Association’s decision to cancel the Women’s Super League season when the men’s Premier League is poised to return on 17 June.
“To bin women’s football this season without a broader plan to protect the gains we have made recently is a huge mistake,” the Labour MP for Wirral South told the Guardian. “People will now start to worry about next season. We need to hear urgently from the FA and from Premier League clubs what their intentions are: will women continue to pay the price for a ban 99 years ago, that still overshadows women in football today? Or is there a road to equality? Women players and supporters deserve answers.”
In a letter to the FA chief executive, Mark Bullingham, McGovern said the decision to broadcast the Premier League on terrestrial television but not women’s games is failing to capitalise on the viewing figures the England women’s team earned at last summer’s World Cup.
“Given the warning from the players’ organisation, FifPro, that the Covid-19 crisis is an existential risk to the future of women’s football internationally, the decision to end the Women’s Super League at home must not end the progress that has been made over the last five years,” the letter states. “Now we know the Premier League will be shown on terrestrial TV, the women’s game is losing a massive opportunity to play to new fans.
“The success of the Women’s World Cup in France last year cannot be denied. Twelve million people watched England’s semi-final match with the USA. Similar numbers watch the Six Nations, the FA Cup final and Wimbledon. Viewing figures from the Korean League and the Bundesliga, now playing behind closed doors, show sports fans want to watch football. So an opportunity to grow TV interest – and audiences – in women’s football is now being lost.”
McGovern also expressed concerns that the progress made at grassroots level stands to fall by the wayside. “According to the FA, the Lionesses’ victory in France last summer inspired 350,000 more women over 16 to participate in the game. The number of women and girls playing football in England has now reached 3.4 million, with a 54% increase in the number of women and girls’ affiliated teams,” she writes. “ What steps are the Football Association taking to ensure that this gender and sporting progress is not laid to waste?”