Two months after the Football Association informed clubs in the Women’s Super League and Championship that it would not be offering any specific Covid-19 financial support, making curtailment almost a foregone conclusion, that last resort is finally being discussed. And in one way it feels overdue. But should we be looking at cancellation at all?
In Germany this Friday, two weeks after the resumption of the men’s Bundesliga, and in the same week the fate of the WSL and Championship will likely be confirmed, the Frauen-Bundesliga season will resume.
It has been widely reported that players and clubs in the WSL and Championship do not want to see out the remainder of the season, though it was only last Wednesday that clubs were finally asked to consider cancellation formally and the nuances of it. However there are serious questions to be asked about the role that the FA, the Premier League and Premier League clubs have played in paving the way for it.
The DFB and DFL – the German FA and the league, respectively – have pulled together to provide support across the sport, including the elite women’s game. In England, the Premier League, to which the FA has been touting the running of the WSL, has shown no such solidarity.
Suggesting similar measures to Germany for the English game feels extreme, radical and unrealistic. The short-term spending required to complete the season safely comes with the warning that there could be long-term financial implications. The idea that there could be ways to generate new income or push the biggest Premier League clubs into making the same financial sacrifices as those top Bundesliga clubs for the greater good and health of the game, and in the name of equality, does not seem to have ever been on the table.
The FA and Premier League will talk the talk when it comes to equality and “football for all” but it seems an asterisk needs attaching and a footnote saying “unless it asks questions of the might and morals of the market-driven Premier League”.
Two of the questions put to clubs in the WSL and the Championship this past week were whether clubs could possibly meet the necessary safety requirements to finish the season and whether they have the financial resources to do so. We have the opposite of German solidarity, with the onus on individual clubs to magic their way through this crisis. That has an effect on morale. If clubs fear they cannot provide a safe environment, and players feel their clubs cannot do so unaided, of course they are going to favour cancellation.
The lack of financial support, the lengthy period of uncertainty and an unwillingness to bring football’s resources together to navigate this crisis means the feedback to the FA’s questions will likely go only one way, because they have engineered it to make completion unviable, risky and scary.
If we assume the leagues will be cancelled, what then? The bonus for the FA should clubs favour deciding the league based on the table as it stands or using a points per game formula is that there is little movement. Any PPG formula, weighted or unweighted, will see Chelsea leapfrog Manchester City to the WSL title. With Chelsea not having played every team in the league, a tricky match against Everton outstanding, City would be right to feel aggrieved. Any version of the table puts those two in the driving seat for Champions League spots, though.
However, with only 71.9% of WSL games and 67.3% of Championship games completed it is hard to see, in leagues with 12 and 11 teams, respectively, and where one game can dramatically shift standings, how any formula can provide a fair outcome.
A bigger decision is whether to continue with promotion and relegation. Aston Villa are six points clear of Sheffield United at the top of the Championship, while Liverpool are bottom of the WSL table, one point behind Birmingham having played a game more. There will be a clamour for Liverpool to avoid the drop and there is a legitimate argument for the expansion of the WSL. But to promote and not relegate is hugely inconsistent and contrary to the attempt to ensure sporting integrity is maintained. It would also leave the second tier with 10 teams next season. In a nine-month season, Championship clubs would be expected to build momentum and support with an average of one home league game a month.
The effect of these decisions though, feels insignificant. Why? Because it will be dwarfed by the impact of the decision to sidestep equity.