Former England and Great Britain footballer turned pundit Karen Carney MBE has today published her major review into the future of domestic women’s football, calling for the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship to become fully professional environments, and a new dedicated broadcast slot for women’s football.
The findings in the independent report, commissioned by the Government in September 2022, examine the opportunities and challenges for the women’s and girls’ game – from the commercial future of the elite game to the current professional environment, the fan experience and women and girls’ experiences of participating in grassroots football. It sets out a route to lift minimum standards and deliver bold and sustainable growth at elite and grassroots levels.
Since the launch of the review, Carney has met with a wide variety of stakeholders from across the game. This includes the technical staff and players at Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship clubs, former players, the football authorities and representatives from organisations across women’s sport and beyond to discuss the issues facing the game’s development.
She has also met with financial and commercial experts, alongside major broadcasters and sponsors to discuss the game’s financial health and future revenue opportunities.
Chair of the review of domestic women’s football Karen Carney MBE said:
Following the Lionesses’ unforgettable success in 2022 and as we look ahead to the World Cup, it is clear that domestic women’s football has reached a defining moment.
This review has enabled us to get a comprehensive understanding of the state of the game, and how we can capitalise on the current momentum.
It is clear that the women’s game in this country can become a world leading sport that not only generates immense economic and social value, but sets the standards for women’s professional sport globally.
These recommendations must be a blueprint for how this can be achieved, and must be acted upon with urgency.
The review makes ten recommendations:
- The new standalone company tasked with running the Women’s Super League (WSL) and Women’s Championship, NewCo, should not settle for anything less than world leading standards for players, fans, staff and everybody involved in the women’s game.
- The FA needs to fix the talent pathway to create generation after generation of world-beating Lionesses. As part of this:
- The FA should choose a strategic partner willing to invest in building a sustainable pipeline of domestic talent.
- Clubs should be allowed access to an increased pool of international talent while the domestic pathway is fixed.
- The Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship should become fully professional environments designed to attract, develop and sustain the best playing talent in the world. This means the FA:
- Addressing the gulf in minimum operating standards between the two leagues (specifically minimum contact time with a player, and player salaries).
- Providing gold standard physical and mental health provision.
- Mandating elite training facilities for players.
- Mandating a world leading parental package.
- Funding full union representation to both tiers.
- Uplifting duty of care provision for players.
- Offering best-in-class career transition support for players leaving the professional game.
- The FA should urgently address the lack of diversity across the women’s game – in on and off-pitch roles.
- The FA, Premier League, EFL and broadcasters should work together to carve out a new dedicated broadcast slot for women’s football (last season most WSL matches kicked off at 11.30am on Saturdays and 6.45pm on Sundays).
- Clubs must better value and support their fans – the FA should raise minimum standards to enforce this.
- The Government must deliver on recent commitments around equal access to school sports for girls.
- Everyone involved in funding grassroots facilities – the Government, local authorities, the FA and Premier League – must come together to increase investment to accommodate meaningful access for women and girls to play sport.
- The FA, Premier League and Football Foundation should work together to make sure women and girls are benefitting from funding flowing into facilities across the pyramid.
- As the FA hands over the responsibility for running the Women’s Super League and Championship to NewCo, it must now place more focus on the development of grassroots clubs and the rest of the women’s football pyramid.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said:
I want to pay tribute to Karen Carney and her panel of experts for all the hard work and dedication they have put into producing such an important review.
After the joy of last summer when the Lionesses lifted the Women’s EURO 2022 trophy, and as we approach the Women’s World Cup in just a few days time, we are at a milestone for women’s sport.
Women’s football in particular has huge potential to improve the lives of women and girls and offer a special and accessible sporting environment for fans. Everyone involved in the game must consider the recommendations made in this report and help to take the game to the next level.
The findings and recommendations have been developed with the support of a panel of experts. It includes former professional footballer turned pundit Ian Wright, former Lionesses Head Coach Hope Powell, Chair of the Professional Game Academy Audit Company and Director of the Women in Football group Jane Purdon, NFL Head of Europe and UK and former CEO of World Rugby Brett Gosper, former Deloitte Global Lead Partner for Sports Business Dan Jones and Secretary General of the International Working Group on Women and Sport Lisa O’Keefe.