Fifpro, the global players’ union, has warned that women’s football is faced with an “existential threat” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In a new report it calls on governing bodies and the game’s stakeholders from across the world to step up, protect players and aspire “to build a more solid foundation” to the industry.

It is urging that “unless there is a clear commitment … to stabilise competitions and provide financial assistance to keep leagues, clubs and players in business, the economic standstill will ultimately result in insolvencies of otherwise profitable and stable clubs across many markets.”

In football, women have been among the worst hit by the pandemic. Fifpro is particularly concerned how the crisis is exposing the poor and precarious conditions of many women footballers globally.

“The lack of written contracts, the short-term duration of employment contracts, the lack of health insurance and medical coverage, and the absence of basic worker protections and worker’s rights leaves many female players — some of whom were already teetering on the margins — at great risk of losing their livelihoods.”

The release of Fifpro’s 2020 Raising Our Game – a comprehensive audit of women’s football – has been postponed due to the crisis. However, this supplementary report explains that one of its findings shows that many clubs will provide “housing (51% of players surveyed saying they received help with housing), health insurance (44%), and food (37%)” instead of financially compensating players, and encourages clubs to “ensure that players are not left without these essential items as a result of the crisis.”

Instability is not new to women’s football, explains Fifpro, “the majority of players have had experience with previous clubs on the verge of bankruptcy or uncertainty around wages at some point in their careers.”

However, players have found themselves “left in the dark”, forced to apply for temporary employment after wage cuts and find themselves isolated in foreign countries “facing the worst health crisis of the modern era separated from friends, family, and support systems”.

The report also warns that “while little research exists today about the physiological implications of such a dramatic change in mental, emotional, physical and social environments for professional female athletes,” early insights show “significant changes in menstrual cycles, with more frequent and severe symptoms, and changes in cycle length and pattern which adds to the stress of the situation,” possibly in part due to changes in training load, diet, and sleep.

These factors could have an effect on the length of time it takes women to get their bodies reset and match fit in any preseason restart.

With women’s football at vastly different stages of development from country to country, , Fifpro is encouraging governing bodies and stakeholders not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, instead encouraging them to look to “special financial measures and conditions for female players, clubs, and competitions”.

Instead of women’s football falling victim to this crisis, the players’ union is proposing its growth and sustainability be a central focus of the recovery process, while also suggesting that there is an opportunity for this crisis should be seen as a “opportunity to address shortcomings in professional women’s football and establish global labour standards for the working conditions of players”.

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