The Women’s Premier League to Kick Off Under a Cloud

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It might not be getting the 16 page pullout supplements in every newspaper that the Barclay’s Premier League is, but the F.A. Women’s Premier League also kicks-off this weekend.  The shadow of the men’s game (as well as the women’s European Championships going on concurrently) obviously looms over the season’s launch, but so does a black cloud over the future prospects for women’s football in England as a whole.

The grand ambition of the F.A. was to give the women’s game a new lease of life in 2010: instead of rainy, cold evenings a new elite Super League was planned for launch to run during the summer, where it might just win a little more of the spotlight. But that plan has now been shelved, perhaps indefinitely.

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The original announcement in September of 2008 by the F.A. of a new Super League was a clear response to the impending launch of the summer-league WPS in the United States the following year, with several England internationals being tempted away by the pay and quality of the professional league. But in April this year, the Football Association announced it was deferring the start of the Super League due to “financial difficulties in companies with which we trade” . The F.A.  has done little to reassure anyone the Super League will ever now launch.

After the decision was announced (a desultory letter from the F.A. was sent to the clubs after the decision had already been leaked to the press and posted on the F.A.’s website), criticism rained down on the F.A. from within the women’s game. “If anybody wanted a clear indication of the FA’s regard for women’s football, this is it,” said Sue Tibballs, the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s chief executive in April. “They were looking at their budgets to see what they could cut and women’s football was an easy option. You have to question their fitness to run the women’s game.”

In June, F.A. Chairman Lord Triesman addressed the Women’s Premier League clubs, and failed to give any assurances whatsoever that the Super League would not be deferred again. “We cannot guarantee that this will not happen if significant commercial FA contracts and investment income is lost,” Triesman said, according to the minutes from the meeting.

Bristol Academy manager Gary Green had earlier pointed out that “It’s another kick in the teeth for the women’s game. I understand the bad economic situation, but that’s been going on for quite a while so you have to wonder if the plans were ever in place.” Legendary Arsenal coach Vic Akers added that “I think they looked at the budgets to see what they could cut and women’s football seemed the easy option.”

It wasn’t the first time the F.A. had failed to fulfil its promises to the women’s game: a similarly touted shiny new league failed at the start of this decade as well. Considering the historical debt the Football Association owes the women’s game not just from this but from the long ban on the sport under its auspices from 1921 to 1972, one has to wonder if they can ever be trusted again to nurture the future of the sport.

And providing one more little kick to the shins to the women’s game, the F.A.’s official Women’s Premier League website fails to even mention the new season is starting on its latest news page.

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