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Major review of women’s football published

  • Former Lioness Karen Carney MBE publishes findings and recommendations of her review into the future of domestic women’s football
  • Review was commissioned by UK Government following England’s UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 success and is published in the build-up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023
  • Report recommends raising minimum standards across the game and calls for the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship to become fully professional environments

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.

The Government will set out its full response to the recommendations in the autumn.

Read Raising the Bar – Reframing the Opportunity in Women’s Football

Notes to editors:

  • Read the original terms of reference for the review of domestic women’s football

  • The review had a particular focus on:

    • Assessing the potential audience reach and growth of the game – by considering the value and visibility of women’s and girls’ football in England, including the potential to grow the fanbase for women’s football and whether current growth can be achieved without overstretching infrastructure.

    • Examining the financial health of the game and its financial sustainability for the long term – This will include exploring opportunities and ways to support the commercialisation of the women’s game, broadcast revenue opportunities and the sponsorship of women’s football.

    • Examining the structures within women’s football – This includes the affiliation with men’s teams, prize money, the need for women’s football to adhere to the administrative requirements of the men’s game; and assessing the adequacy, quality, accessibility and prevalence of the facilities available for women’s and girls’ football for the growth and sustainability of the game.

  • The fan-led review of football governance for men’s professional football, conducted in 2021, recommended a review of the women’s game. Those who gave evidence highlighted the need for women’s football to be properly financed – including the commercialisation of women’s football, the opportunities for the game to benefit from broadcast revenue and implementing a stronger administrative structure. Read the Government’s full response.

  • During her career, Karen Carney achieved 144 caps for England and represented Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games. She enjoyed a club career for Arsenal, Chicago Red Stars, Birmingham City and Chelsea. She is now a respected voice on mens and women’s football and works as a broadcaster and columnist for the Guardian, ITV Sport and Sky Sports, as well as her role as a sponsorship consultant for Visa.

  • Karen Carney has been supported in the evidence gathering and analysis by senior officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the FA.

  • The women’s game has made significant progress in recent years. The launch of the Women’s Super League in 2011 generated a wave of bespoke sponsorship and broadcast rights deals, and the England men’s and women’s senior players are now being paid the same match fee for representing their country.

  • UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 highlighted the changing attitudes to women’s sport. Records were shattered, with a record global audience of more than 365 million people, almost 575,000 tickets sold, nearly half of ticket holders female and almost 100,000 children. There were sell-out crowds wherever the Lionesses played, and the final broke the all-time record attendance for a EUROs final – in either the men’s or women’s game.

  • Domestic women’s football is also gaining real traction with the 2023 Women’s FA Cup final seeing the biggest-ever attendance for a club game, and new records being set across broadcast viewership and matchday attendance.

  • The FA has decided that the Women’s Super League and Championship should move from being fully integrated in the FA to a fully independent club owned entity via a ‘NewCo’ – a new entity established to enable that transition.

  • The Government is in the process of delivering its biggest ever investment into delivering equal access for women and girls to play football, with £300 million being used to build or improve thousands of grassroots football and multi-sport facilities across the UK by 2025.

  • In February, former Lioness Jill Scott opened the first of 23 new grassroots football facilities that the Government have announced will be named after the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 winning squad, in honour of their achievements.

  • Working alongside the FA, the Government is determined to achieve their shared ambition of equal access to football for girls in 90% of schools by 2024, and the over £600 million PE and School Sports Premium School Sport and Activity Action Plan will help more girls to take part in sport and physical activity.

  • In March, the Government announced that it was setting out new standards for equal access to sports, making it clear that girls and boys should be offered the same sports during PE and extracurricular time in schools.

  • Schools are also being asked to offer a minimum of two hours curriculum PE time and the Government will provide support to schools on how to do this through the upcoming refresh of the School Sport Action Plan.

  • Up to £57 million in funding will be used to allow selected schools around England to keep their sport facilities open for longer for after-school activities, especially targeted at girls, disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs.

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