The coronavirus pandemic presents an "almost existential threat" to the women's game, the global union for professional soccer players has warned in a groundbreaking report.
Fifpro claims that there is a risk of "mass unemployment and recession" unless stakeholders, policymakers, governing bodies, broadcasters and sponsors give "specific considerations to protect the women's football industry". General secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann warned that COVID-19 poses far greater risks to the women's game than to the men's and that women's teams must be given priority access to pitches and facilities once sport resumes to help ensure their survival.
Fifpro has warned of massive risks to women’s soccer.Credit:Getty Images
"The damage that a crisis like this can have on an industry that has been growing so well but is still on very fragile feet in many places can be very drastic," Baer-Hoffman said.
"In a crisis like this, you turn your attention to where the biggest damage is – in this case, commercial damage. The long-term consequences, in terms of the equality and the diversity in our game, could be much harder hit on the women's side.
"The concepts that are being developed on the men's side when it comes to wage cuts, and things like that, won't translate into the women's game, simply because 98 per cent of female players cannot afford it. We would see a great, great social risk if those same measures were applied."
Fifpro fears a string of clubs will become insolvent as there are few professional leagues, low salaries and uneven sponsorship deals.
"The women's game needs special measures that account for the unique conditions of female players, clubs and competitions," the report says.
"The situation is likely to present an almost existential threat to the women's game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women's football industry. 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 workers' rights leaves many female players – some of whom were already teetering on the margins – at risk of losing their livelihoods."
Some players have been left so stressed that they have reported "significant changes in [their] menstrual cycles, with more frequent and severe symptoms, and changes in cycle length and pattern, which adds to the stress of the situation", the report adds.
Changes in training load, diet and sleep disturbances have contributed to these effects, with many players tasked with maintaining match fitness despite lacking necessary exercise equipment.
The report warns: "The return to football will provide a challenge. For athletes who have experienced COVID-19, the potential to be compromised is significant and must be considered when determining readiness."
Fifpro said that giving professional women's soccer priority access to facilities and a return date would provide the best platform for sponsors to drive revenue and for broadcasters to reach wider audiences, thus securing the jobs and career paths of female players.
The crossroads presented by the crisis may provide an opportunity to "reshuffle things and figure out new and smarter ways of doing things," Baer-Hoffmann said.
He warned that clubs must be wary of unilateral approaches – Barcelona's men's and women's teams have both taken a 70 per cent pay cut, a move that disproportionately hits the club's women players.
The report states that players isolating in foreign countries have reported psychological distress at spending the crisis away from their families. Because the majority of female players have experienced their previous clubs on the verge of bankruptcy, "to see wages cut and clubs forcing players to apply for temporary unemployment is difficult", Fifpro said.
A 2017 Fifpro report revealed that only 18 per cent of players are professional according to FIFA regulations, which stipulate that they have a written contract and are paid more for their soccer activity than the expenses incurred. Without such legal status, players are excluded from national employment protections and support measures, and are unable to join unions.
Recent FIFA adjustments will do little to protect amateur players, many of whom are recompensed by clubs through housing and food in lieu of wages and could be left homeless.
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