Fake crowd noises, socially distant changing rooms and no handshakes allowed – football in 2020 is certainly not what we expected it to be. And now, it has emerged that over the last six months of coronavirus restrictions, professional female athletes have suffered disproportionately in comparison to their male counterparts.
A survey into the impact of Covid-19 released this month by Fifpro, the worldwide representative organisation for professional footballers, found 52 per cent of the 62 countries questioned between July and October had national federations that did not contact women national team players, while in 47 countries, women’s clubs were not included in the return to play protocols.
This means that professional women footballers have been left in the dark during this pandemic, with most players’ unions reporting that communication from clubs and leagues has been poor or very poor. The Fifpro report has also highlighted wage cuts, job losses and a lack of mental health support as being among key issues that impact negatively on the fight for gender equality in sports.
Some might argue that this study was conducted mainly on professional female athletes in Europe, and the findings might not be applicable back home. However, it is only by drawing parallels between ourselves and countries that have made significant strides ahead in the fight for gender equality in sports that we can understand just how much ground there is left to cover.
The findings of this survey point at one important fact: Female players and the game itself need strategic support to get through this tough pandemic period.
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Walk the talk
The fact that professional women footballers in developed countries are struggling to get information from their leaders during this uncertain time, and their clubs are kept out of the strategic support they need to stay afloat, sets a dangerous precedent that if adopted by other FA heads could significantly slow down the journey to equality in sports.
It is time for football chiefs around the world to walk the talk. Involve female athletes in decisions that affect them. Give women, not just the men, the financial and material support they need to weather the Covid-19 pandemic and lastly, let women play. It isn’t fair that several women’s leagues around the world are on hold. Aren’t women’s national teams “elite” too?
Last, I am impressed by ex-English FA chairman Greg Clarke’s resignation after being slammed for saying there are few women goalkeepers because girls don’t like the ball being kicked at them.
I liked the clap back from Women in Football CEO Jane Purdo. She said: “In my playing days, I had a high tolerance of footballs being kicked hard at me. If you’re a girl and you feel the same, you’re in the right place.”
I don’t need to say any more.