As you are surely aware, The FA announced in early September, plans to once again restructure the upper echelons of the women’s football pyramid. Their aim is to professionalise the top tier of the game in England, as part of an elite performance programme, which will in turn make the national team the best in the world. Bold, ambitious and also highly contentious for many who have invested and dedicated so much into their clubs and may be left behind…
Forgive the list of links we are going to supply but this is the best and clearest way to remind or inform you of the exact proposals and reasoning behind them.
FA ANNOUNCEMENT (inc. links to criteria for applying for Tier 1, 2 etc): http://www.thefa.com/news/2017/sep/26/fa-restructure-womens-football-pyramid-wsl-wpl-270917
Aware of the sensitivities of the restructure and the many questions that would arise from the Katie Brazier, The FA’s Head of Women’s Leagues and Competitions set out a list of responses to anticipated queries to the announcement: http://www.thefa.com/news/2017/09/26/15/19/restructure-elite-womens-football-pyramid-questions-katie-brazier-the-fa-270917
At the time of the announcement we ran a very well-received reaction piece by Carrie Dunn, author of ‘Roar of the Lionesses’, which echoed the feelings of vocal opponents to the plans, which was effectively ‘too much, too soon (again)’. Read it here:
So, what is new? Well, a fan Facebook group was set up by Tony Farmer (who was instrumental in setting up Chelsea Ladies three decades ago and has been a long-time supporter of the women’s game) which quickly gathered interest as mutual minds, and those looking for further information, to place more intense scrutiny on the plans and question the ‘footballing/sporting ethics’ of the restructure. You can see/join the group on Facebook here >>>
Tony wrote a lengthy and heartfelt (and not entirely negative) letter to Katie Brazier requesting clarification on some of the decisions and asking for them to perhaps reconsider the timing and parameters of the restructure, which to all intents and purpose places the availability of cash to invest into a club (regardless of past support for or achievement in girls’/women’s football) above all other requirements.
Ms. Brazier kindly acknowledged the letter and then respectfully responded to each of Tony’s queries in turn. We/he thought it should be available to all to read because this is the future of our sport and this is a key turning point in our game:
Mr.Tony Farmer, 31st October.
I refer to your letter received on Friday 20th October.
The restructure of the top tiers of the women’s game and changes to licence criteria are central to The FA’s ‘Game plan for Growth’ strategy which outlined the approach to transform the future of the women’s game via three core goals: to double participation, double the fanbase and for England teams to achieve consistent success on the world stage. The changes announced will help improve the performance of the women’s game both on and off the pitch and develop a stronger commercial model for the leagues and clubs.
In response to your specific questions:
1.How does the FA justify changing the Rules and Regulations for the 2017/18 season after it has commenced?
The changes to the competition structure are intended to enhance the standard of elite women’s football in England and drive an increase in participation and fan numbers.The changes to the regulatory framework have been made to support the changes to the competition structure as well as TheFootball Association’s (“The FA”) long term aims and goals for women’s and girls’ football. Only those changes which The FA considered to be necessary to facilitate this have been made and, in the main, these reflect the club licensing application process for 2018/19 onwards. The vast majority of the changes were made in advance of the season commencing and all FA WSL clubs were informed of the additional changes before they commenced playing this season.
2.Why was making the top flight an elite full-time only league not mentioned in the FA’s ‘Strategy for Growth 2017/2020’ document? Surely such a massive change should have taken top billing.
The FA’s first strategic priority as set out in the ‘Game Plan for Growth’ document is to build a sustainable and successful high performance system. In order to do this, The FA identified, as outlined in the document, a number of things it would do to achieve this. This included:
– Conducting a review of the whole pyramid in order to define the role and purpose of each level of the competition structure.
– Developing our partnership with existing FA WSL clubs by renewing the licences with those clubs which meet the relevant criteria.
– Recruiting a Head of Performance for the women’s game whose remit includes the entire performance system.
At the time of launching the strategy this work was still on-going and we were still gathering information and evidence and taking advice in respect of the proposals for the future. The changes being made are a result of this process and consultation with the clubs.
3. The above document features the tag line ‘For All’. How does an elite top tier for professional only clubs promote the ‘For All’ strategy?
Firstly, it is important to point out that the strategy covers all elements of the women’s and girls’ game; our vision is for football to be the number one choice for girls and women whether they play competitively or recreationally. The women’s football pyramid provides football opportunities ‘For All’ players and we have (and need) great clubs at every level of the pyramid from recreational through to the elite level. Young girls and women starting out on their football journey now have the opportunity to play for fun or, if they have the ambition and talent to progress, to become a full time professional footballer(something which was not possible just a few years ago). Furthermore, with the alignment of all steps in the pyramid from the 2018/19 season and onwards, the pyramid will be accessible ‘For All’ clubs.
In addition, a full-time professional league will also mean a better quality product, more competitive matches and unpredictability of results on the pitch. This will drive interest and awareness of the game and result in an increase in the number of fans attending matches and watching on TV or online. Greater interest will also raise the profile of players and help attract more commercial investment which will provide a stronger, more sustainable commercial model in the long term. The development of the game in this way will increase the employment opportunities within the women’s game, not just for players but also in coaching, refereeing, officiating and administration roles.
4. How is it fair that existing WSL1 Clubs only have until 10th November to source funding and produce a sustainable business plan, while clubs outside WSL1 have until March 2018? That severely disadvantages existing clubs.
We have been discussing the changes with all existing FA WSL clubs (clubs in both FA WSL 1 and FA WSL 2) since August 2016 and existing FA WSL clubs were briefed on the proposal to introduce a full-time performance playing environment in July. This was followed by individual consultation meetings with each FA WSL club and the feedback which we got from clubs was used to shape the final proposals. The final proposals were notified to existing FA WSL clubs on 6th September ahead of a final decision being made by The FA Women’s Football Board and application packs being released. Many of the existing FA WSL 1 clubs are already delivering or working towards implementing a full-time model.
Existing FA WSL clubs are being given priority to apply for and secure licences in advance of any other clubs as we recognise the commitment and investment they have made so far in working with us together to develop the league.
5. Why was this announced during the season and not immediately after the conclusion of the 2017 Spring Series to allow Clubs time to assess proposal and start planning, without the distraction of competing at same time? Was the timing to deflect attention away from the Mark Sampson sacking?
It was not possible to announce the changes sooner as we were still conducting the review of the competition pyramid as well as gathering information and evidence to shape the development of the high performance system. We also needed to consult with the clubs before decisions were made. The clubs were aware of the changes before a ball was kicked for the 2017/18 season. The public announcement was then made at the first opportunity.
6.How, in the event clubs such as Yeovil, Bristol, Sunderland cannot afford to meet criteria, can in your own words, “be for the greater good of the game”?
We understand that this is a bold step however we believe it is the right thing to do to continue to develop the game. The changes are central to our ‘Game plan for Growth’ strategy, which we’re confident will transform the future of women’s football in this country. As set out above in answer to question 3, a full-time, competitive league will mean a better quality product, more competitive matches and unpredictability of results on the pitch. We believe this will drive interest and awareness and result in more fans attending matches and watching on TV or online. Greater interest will also raise the profile of the game and attract more commercial investment which will, in turn, provide a stronger, more sustainable commercial model in the long term. These changes will also create further career opportunities and support the continued success of our England teams and those clubs participating in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
7.What have the FA put in place to prevent another Notts County situation arising?
A full review of the rules, regulations, processes and the club licence has been conducted and appropriate changes made. Financial fair play regulations will also continue to apply to facilitate club financial sustainability.
8.What have the FA put in place to provide stability for players having to give up employment to go full-time, in the event of a club folding or being relegated? The FA have a duty of care to those players and need to protect their wages.
It is a player’s choice as to whether they choose to take a football contract versus alternative employment. The introduction of a full-time professional environment, with increased minimum contact hours, makes full time playing a much more viable option for more players. A minimum of 16 –20 hours of minimum contact time for Tier 1 was chosen to provide a minimal level of performance contact time and to allow players to continue their educational or vocational training and thus develop their career opportunities once they are no longer playing football at the same level. As the players are employed by the clubs, the clubs have the direct relationship with the players. However, The FA has, in consultation with the clubs and the PFA, updated the standard form player contract which all clubs are required to use.
9.How does relegating clubs on purely financial changes the FA are implementing help to promote women’s football and encourage the formation of new clubs who know they can never attain top flight status.
To be clear, The FA is not relegating any club by reference to financial requirements. The FA has set key minimum criteria for obtaining a licence to participate in Tiers 1 and 2 from 2018/2019.As previously, The FA will assess clubs by reference to a set of minimum standards and only those clubs which meet these standards will be able to take up a place in the relevant tier.
The current club licences expire at the end of the season and The FA WSL in its current format will technically cease to exist. The criteria which have been put in place for the new Tier 1 and Tier 2 licences are designed to raise standards and ensure improved consistency across clubs in terms of playing environment and support for players both on and off the field. The FA has increased the funding available to clubs to help with the implementation of the changes and the creation of a minimum performance standard across all clubs. As mentioned above the changes also aim to improve competitive balance, which we believe will drive interest, excitement and grow the fan base. Greater interest will also help attract more commercial investment and provide a stronger, more sustainable commercial model which in future, all levels of the game could benefit from.
10.Has the FA, deceived and undermined existing WSL Clubs by holding talks with Premier League and EFL Clubs to ensure an uptake in places before making the announcement, effectively already sealing the fate of some existing WSL Clubs?
Since The FA WSL was first launched we have maintained a regular dialogue with those clubs which have expressed an aspiration to participate in the top tier of the domestic game and provided advice and support to clubs at every level of the pyramid as they have developed and built their infrastructure ready to progress if and when the opportunity arises. In addition, since promotion from The FA WPL was introduced we have also held an annual workshop with those clubs within The FA WPL which have sought information in respect of the progression from The FA WPL to FA WSL 2.
As set out above in answer to question 4, existing FA WSL clubs are being given the opportunity, through the application process which has been put in place, to apply for and secure licences in advance of any other clubs. Clubs outside of the current FA WSL will only be given the opportunity to apply for a position in the new Tiers 1 or 2 should there be spaces available once the existing FA WSL clubs’ applications have been considered.
11.How will changing the whole structure of the Women’s Football Pyramid mean England Lionesses will rise from 3rd to 1st and WSL Clubs win the Champions League?
One of The FA’s three objectives for women’s football is consistent success on the world stage. For that to happen we believe those players and clubs participating at the top tiers of the domestic game need to be playing full-time in a highly competitive environment. We believe that by taking these steps now, this will maintain and accelerate success for both the national team and clubs competing in the UEFA Women’s Champions League as well as increase the excitement and interest surrounding the top tiers of the domestic game.
12.Is the FA 50 year ban on women and girls playing football, not the reason women’s football in England has had to play catch up, rather than the existing structure?
While The FA’s historic ban on women and girls playing football has no doubt contributed to the slower pace of growth in the women’s and girls’ game, it is not the only contributory factor. The FA is working hard to grow the women’s and girls’ game and deliver success in this area. We have the opportunity, through making changes to the competition structure, to accelerate the success and development of the girls’ and women’s game and benefit all those involved in it.
13.Could you clarify what you meant when you stated “The FA could have decided, you know what, we don’t want to run a top women’s league, it hasn’t been the success we had hoped?Was that a possibility? Was that discussed?
The current FA WSL club licences expire at the end of this season and technically the league will cease to exist at that point. The FA could, in theory, have chosen to withdraw its support to the top tiers of the domestic game at that point. Many other national associations have chosen not to invest in developing a strong domestic league (for example Holland) and this has resulted in their players playing overseas. In contrast, The FA understands the fundamental importance of a successful elite programme at the pinnacle of the domestic football pyramid and has committed to continue the development of its domestic competition. In addition, licences will no longer be awarded for a fixed term. The FA and clubs are committed to the long term operation and development of elite professional women’s football with promotion and relegation, subject to (licence criteria where applicable) managing the movement of clubs between each level of the competition structure. This will in turn enable The FA and the clubs to build a long-term commercial programme.
14.Why can the FA, not grant a licence to all existing WSL1 sides for 2018/19 and add up to 4 Clubs who apply and meet new criteria and then let the natural process of promotion and relegation decide which teams fall out of the Top Tier?
The FA is committed to delivering success in women’s and girls’ football and having taken advice and consulted with clubs, it considers the approach it is taking to be in the best interests of the game. We already have a number of clubs delivering to the new criteria and requiring all clubs to meet the new minimum standards will help to address the growing gap between clubs in the current structure.
15.Why is it so urgent that the FA plans have to come into force next season?
The league and the clubs have made tremendous progress to date which has delivered great success on the international stage. This success has had a very positive impact on changing perceptions and increasing participation levels as football becomes a more acceptable sport for women and girls. We believe that we must continue to be ambitious if we are to achieve our vision for football to become the sport of choice, to double the number of players and fans and to continue to achieve international success.
16.In July 2015 you said “building things slowly is really important, because we want it to be sustainable”. Is 2 years ‘building slowly’ and how is a league with a £5,000,000 shortfall between income from attendances and FA Funding and Clubs running costs sustainable?
The game has moved on significantly since 2015 and we need to support and protect this development as well as future development by ensuring that appropriate structures are implemented. The changes are designed to support the sustainable growth of the top tiers of the women’s game, the clubs and the players.
17.Will the FA guarantee that if all existing WSL1 Clubs are able to meet the new criteria and there is an excess of Clubs applying for the 14 available places for 2018/19, that no existing club will be relegated in favour of ‘a bigger name club’?
As has been set out above, applications from all current FA WSL clubs will be assessed against the key minimum requirements and licences will be awarded at Tier 1 or 2 (as appropriate) based on these assessments. Only after existing FA WSL clubs’ applications have been assessed and decisions made in respect of them will any decision regarding the number of spaces (if any) available to other clubs be made.
18.Will the FA guarantee that if a Chelsea / Arsenal / Man City / Liverpool were to finish in a relegation place and a Durham / London Bees win tier two and meet criteria, that promotion and relegation would occur and not be blocked to keep the ‘big names’ in the top tier?
As has been set out above, all existing FA WSL clubs will be given the opportunity to apply for a licence to participate in Tiers 1 and 2 for the 2018/19 season. These applications will be assessed by reference to the minimum licence criteria and licences awarded accordingly. Sporting performance and current membership of a particular division will not (with the exception of the fact that the application process allows existing FA WSL clubs to apply before all other clubs) be considered in the selection process. For the 2018/2019 season and onwards, it is intended that promotion and relegation will be in place across the whole pyramid.
19. Will the FA ensure transparency and publish reason for accepting and denying applications?
The application process is confidential and any information which The FA chooses to publish is subject to this.
I hope the above provides clarity and helps to explain The FA’s rationale behind the changes.
Head of Women’s Leagues and Competitions
It’s a lot to take in and it’s been a very long post but we would be keen to hear your thoughts – because we know there many that see this as positive development as well as those who are sad and angry about the likely results of this restructure – so post away below. We know Tony has plenty to say in response, so maybe we will kick off with his thoughts.
Remember this is YOUR GAME.