International women’s football is in crisis

France defender Wendie Renard celebrates after scoring a penalty during the 2019 Women’s World Cup France Group A soccer match between Nigeria and France on June 17, 2019, at Roazhon Park Stadium in Rennes – Getty Images/Franck Fife

Women’s world football has a crisis, but not one that is impossible to solve. The growing number of top international soccer players at loggerheads with their federations is a major concern for the sport, but at the heart of the widespread off-field drama is one key theme: the players don’t feel their governing bodies are listening to their concerns.

This means that, with less than five months to go the World Cup beginsinstead of the women’s game building a sense of momentum ahead of the tournament, the sport now faces the serious possibility of a World Cup without many of the world’s biggest stars.

The latest high-profile case saw arguably France’s top three players – their captain Wendie Renard, plus PSG strikers Kadidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto – withdraw from their national team on Friday. Renard, who lifted the Women’s Champions League trophy last May as captain of Lyon, has announced she will not play at the World Cup because she cannot support the current “system”. Diani and Katoto soon followed with declarations that they could not support the current “administration”.

That was just one factor in news on Tuesday that the president of the French Football Federation (FFF), 81-year-old Noël Le Graët, had resigned from his post, after a report commissioned by France’s sports ministry concluded that he no longer had the “necessary legitimacy” to remain in office.

Le Graët faced accusations of sexual and moral harassment, but denied any wrongdoing. He was known as a staunch supporter of French women’s national team head coach Corinne Diacre, whose future in her role is now reportedly uncertain.

At the same time, Spain have just completed a third successive international camp without 15 of their leading senior players, all of whom resigned in September due to the impact that head coach Jorge Vilda’s regime is reportedly having on their mental health. Vilda refused to resign and the Royal Spanish Football Association criticized the players for not making themselves available for selection.

French striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto celebrates scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 Group D soccer match between France and Italy - Getty Images/Franck Fife

French striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto celebrates scoring the team’s second goal during the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 Group D soccer match between France and Italy – Getty Images/Franck Fife

On top of that, Canada’s players are warning they will boycott international games in April if their dispute over pay inequality and funding cuts is not adequately resolved. Team Canada, which won gold at the Tokyo Olympics 18 months ago, had planned to strike during February at the SheBelieves Cup in the United States, but ended up taking part in the mini-competition “in protest” after the Canadian Soccer the alliance threatened legal action. Their players claim there is a “disgusting” difference between the provisions given to the men’s and women’s national teams.

That added to mounting pressure on Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis, who resigned Monday. Bontis said in a statement: “I recognize that this moment calls for change.”

Despite this, the dispute between the player and Canada Soccer appears to be far from over.

Most worryingly for sport more broadly, these are just cases that make global news, but they will not be isolated. As one Women’s Super League player said, speaking privately last week: “If the Olympic champions can’t get the conditions they deserve, what hope is there for some of the smaller, poorer countries?”

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes summed up the situation when she said on Sunday that these multiple cases around the world served as a reminder of how far the women’s game still has to go.

Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson, asked what support she would offer her club-mates Buchanan, Fleming and Perisset ahead of the League Cup final on March 5, said on Tuesday: “We’re all friends in the team and we It’s something we know is a problem in women’s football It’s not something we’re used to.

“There were different people who had different struggles who could share their experiences with them and help them in that way. And then I think it’s important to just be there and support them and they also know that Chelsea is a safe place where fortunately not I don’t have those problems, we have a really good environment.”

Speaking after her side’s 2-0 win over Arsenal in the FA Women’s Cup, where she was asked to assess the situation, Hayes – whose Chelsea squad includes Canadian duo Kadeisha Buchanan and Jessie Fleming, as well as France right-back Eva Perisset, said: Federations need to do a better job of supporting the women’s game, because we’re clearly not doing it right globally.

“I don’t know every single situation in its entirety. What I do know is that we all have to get better. It’s sad to hear that, but it just serves as a reminder of how much work we still have to do.”

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes reacts at full-time after the Vitality Women's FA Cup fifth round match at Kingsmeadow in London - PA/Bradley Collyer

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes reacts at full-time after the Vitality Women’s FA Cup fifth round match at Kingsmeadow in London – PA/Bradley Collyer

Each of the above disputes involving national teams is very different, but for the most part, the international players you talk to just want some basic things: respect and a high-performance environment that allows them to play at their best when representing their country

It can come down to much more than just compensation. It compares how teams travel to matches abroad, what hotels they stay in for tournaments, whether there are injury-risk training grounds and how many support staff their federation provides in terms of physiotherapy, nutrition and sports science, compared to their male counterparts.

In the case of Spain, the position of the Royal Spanish Football Association and their decision to support Vilda is particularly puzzling, for a number of reasons. Even if you’re a firm believer in giving the manager more time, Vilda’s record in three major tournaments in charge of their national team hardly seems like the kind of return that would merit the unconditional support of his bosses, having yet to get past the quarter-finals, despite Spain’s current ” to the golden generation” of talents.

However, he currently has the support of the Spanish governing body, with 15 of his best players no longer wanting to play for him. Even more strangely, unlike in club football, Spain cannot go and sign a whole new squad of world-class players. In international sports, the cohort of players eligible for selection are the only cards you have in your deck. However, the RSFF currently seems happy to be taking a largely different team to a World Cup that many feel they could win.

In contrast, all this makes the environment in English women’s camps relatively peaceful. It would be wrong to suggest that things have been perfect for the Lionesses over the years, but now, when they train at St George’s Park, they practice on the best pitch in the place. They are provided with the same equipment, recovery facilities and gym as Gareth Southgate’s men’s team. And they will be flying business class to this summer’s World Cup, to try to ensure the team arrives in Australia in the best possible physical condition

Of course, this is an expense that not every FA in the world is lucky enough to be able to afford. But what you can provide to your men’s teams, you should be able to provide to your women’s and women’s teams.

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