While the global sporting community slowly returns from the COVID-19-induced shutdown, the economic impact of the pandemic threatens to derail the momentum women’s sport has built up over the years. From a string of cancellations and their impact on disciplines and players to fears of a fall in investment in the women’s game, here are the developments from biggest tournaments from around the world.
Women’s EURO 2021
The UEFA Women’s EURO, originally scheduled to be held in England in 2021, was moved forward by a year after the 2020 Summer Olympics and men’s EURO were postponed to 2021. Qualifiers for the Women’s EURO have also been postponed with no teams having confirmed their berths so far. Sarina Wiegman, head coach of defending champion Netherlands, believes the postponed competition will give “our own stage, our own platform for the women’s game” with no other football tournaments during that summer.
LPGA Tour 2020
The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour has been shut since February and is aiming for a resumption with the Marathon Classic from July 23 in Sylvania, Ohio. Officials are pushing the state’s governor to allow fans to attend to make the tournament commercially viable. “If the question is, ‘Could you play the tournament without spectators?’ we couldn’t,” Marathon Classic tournament director Judd Silverman said. With 11 tournaments already cancelled this year, the LPGA announced that its full-time members can retain their cards until the end of 2021 season. Indian golfer Aditi Ashok welcomed the move by the league and said, “It’s a huge relief for sure and it’s one less thing that we have to think about while playing.”
Women’s Cricket World Cup 2021 qualifier
The Women’s Cricket World Cup 2021 qualifier, which was scheduled for July 3-19 in Sri Lanka, has been postponed. Three teams among the 10, including Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the West Indies, can still confirm their places in the 50-over World Cup to be held in New Zealand next year. The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) head of events, Chris Tetley, said, “We will work in partnership with the members to find an appropriate window to reschedule these events as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.”
Ed Joyce, head coach of the Ireland women’s team, said, “The fixture schedule ahead is certainly going to be a busy one for all cricket nations given the postponements, and we’ll need to develop a preparation programme in the lead-up to the tournament, so we hope the ICC can give ample notification of the new dates.”
Scheduled to start from May 15 before its postponement, there is no clarity on a start date for the 2020 Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) season, and the organisers are in the process of zeroing in on a neutral venue — reported to be Florida’s IMG Academy or MGM Resorts in Las Vegas — to hold all the matches without any spectators. The league mandated its teams to trim their rosters to 12 by May 26, even before they could hold a single training camp, so that the players could receive their salaries as scheduled on June 1. The players are likely to get their full salaries over 12 pay periods. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert remains hopeful of a 36-game season.
FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup
The FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup, originally scheduled for November 2020, will be held between February 17 and March 7 next year. FIFA has clarified that despite the postponement, the original eligibility criteria will be retained with players born between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2005, allowed to participate. The tournament will be the second time India will host a major FIFA tournament, having held the FIFA Under-17 Men’s World Cup in 2017.
India coach Thomas Dennerby, whose girls will be making their World Cup debut, feels the postponement will allow this team to further improve. “I think the postponement of the World Cup could give us an extra advantage. All the girls have individual training programmes and we follow their progress on a daily basis. I think their fitness level will be very good when we return to the camp. The postponement also gives us more time to work with on their technical skills and this will help us make up for lost time,” said the Swedish coach.
The tennis calendar has taken a massive toll as this year’s French Open has been moved to September, Wimbledon has been cancelled, and the WTA tour will not resume until at least mid-July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Following the announcement of the WTA Tour suspension through July 12, the WTA events in Bastad, Lausanne, Bucharest and Jurmala scheduled for July will not be held, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the WTA said in a statement.
However, stars have taken to the court in exhibition tournaments such as the UTR Pro Match Series. Bianca Andreescu and Sofia Kenin, winners of the last two Grand Slams, are featuring in a 16-player invitational tournament in Charleston in South Carolina beginning on June 23. This will be followed by the World Team Tennis season, which will be held in Greenbrier, West Virginia. The top women players in action here include world No. 4 Kenin and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens. The tournament will run from July 12 to August 2, and 500 spectators are to be allowed to attend the matches.
Division 1 Feminine
France’s Division 1 Feminine has been called off for the rest of the season. The decision was taken on April 28 when French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that no sporting events would be held until September. Lyon, which led the table with 44 points from 16 matches, was declared the winner, while Paris Saint-Germain finished second.
Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural Ballon d’Or Feminin, said: “We’re kind of at the stage where we’re still in need of that help and when you see football as a whole and men’s football is struggling, you can also imagine yourself how women’s football is affected.” Hegerberg, who has been out of action owing to an anterior cruciate ligament injury, added: “We would all love to finish a league, but that is the decision that was made, but you have to adapt and we will take the title. We were happy about it.”
However, the decision to end the D1 Feminine, along with the men’s Ligue 1, has received widespread criticism, and clubs have also threatened legal action.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) was forced to postpone the inaugural edition of The Hundred, which comes as a blow to the women’s calendar in England as the hugely popular Kia Super League was disbanded to make way for the inaugural edition of this 100-ball extravaganza. One of the biggest draws for women was the parity announced in the tournament’s prize money — however, player contracts handed to the top male (£125,000 being the highest) and female (£15,000 being the highest) cricketers reveal a huge pay gap. This tournament was due to be a main if not only source of income for many female cricketers in England, other than the 21 players centrally contracted to the national team, and the postponement will threaten their residential arrangements and financial security. The 2021 edition also faces the questions of player safety, international travel protocols and investments to make up for losses this year.
Women’s football has only returned in Germany, a few weeks after the men’s top flight resumed behind closed doors and strict social distancing protocols. The German model of resumption is being lauded for its attempt at giving the women’s game equal opportunity and support to make that possible.
The German Football Association (DFB) announced a pot of €7.5 million, which was made available to the Women’s Bundesliga and the men’s third division (3. Liga) in case the leagues resumed. Normally, leagues would have to bear the costs of testing, but this pot handled that expenditure for clubs. A sum of €300,000 was set aside for women’s clubs that are not connected to a men’s side. As for the others, the balance was to be settled from the central pot without any repercussions for clubs so that they can focus on organisational costs when games resume. Vfl Wolfsburg leads the table, with Bayern Munich in second place.
Women’s Super League
While the English Premier League is poised for a controlled return courtesy Project Restart, England’s women’s top flight has not been as lucky.
The Football Association (FA) announced the cancellation of the season for the Women’s Super League and Championship, with clubs overwhelmingly vouching for the season to be declared void and Chelsea declared the Super League winner on a points-per-game basis. The Blues along with Manchester City will now represent England in the Champions League. At the other end of the table, Liverpool has been relegated to the Championship while Aston Villa is all set to enter the top flight next season.
Perhaps the most important part of this development is the FA’s announcement that it has no plans of providing financial support to clubs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This comes at a time when the Italian FA has released (£623,000) for Serie A Femminile teams and the French FA has dedicated €6 million in support of Division 1 Feminine and €5,000 for each club in the second tier. Pundits and even the shadow minister for sport in the UK have expressed their disappointment with the development and the lack of support from the cash-rich Premier League.
Barcelona’s men’s team is all set to resume its title bid as La Liga returns this month. The women though are done for now with the season cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact in Spain. The Barca Women do have a reason to cheer though because the side, by virtue of leading the points table, was declared champion. This is their fifth La Liga title, pipping defending champion Atletico Madrid, which finished second. France manager Didier Deschamps called out the WSL and the Liga Iberdrola for their double standards in the restart process. “In football, the resumption of certain leagues obviously responds, first of all, to an economic problem. Look at the decisions made in Spain and England. These two major football countries are planning the resumption of La Liga and the Premier League, but they have decided not to resume the women’s championships, which generate much less revenue. That says everything,” he said.
National Women's Soccer League
The National Women's Soccer League is all set to become the first team sport to return from the Coronavirus-induced shutdown in the United States. North Carolina Courage won the 2019 NWSL Championship and the league did not see a game since. But, the League is back with a tournament titled the Challenge Cup. This month-long event is set to start on June 27 with the Championship game slated for July 26 in the Rio Tinto Stadium, home of the host, Utah Royals FC. The nine participating teams will be based in Utah for 30 days. All players, officials and support staff will be tested two days before their arrival in Utah and will be asked to compulsorily go through consistent testing and symptom review during the course of the 25-game tournament. World Cup winners Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press have chosen to skip the tournament citing safety reasons in the wake of USA's coronavirus situation.
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