The players’ union, Fifpro, has called for a more holistic and coordinated approach to match calendars around the world after its new report found that professional players in the women’s game are suffering from “underloading” as a result of not playing often or consistently enough, competing in an average of 22 matches in the 2019-20 season.
The 2021 annual workload study has found that, even at the very top of the women’s game, the low number of games is preventing the growth and development of players and the sport generally.
Data from 85 female players analysed by the Fifpro Player Workload Monitoring platform found that 14% of all minutes played by an average player came in non-competitive friendly matches, highlighting a lack of high-quality international club tournaments.
The study found that players at the very top are hampered by long and quiet periods juxtaposed with bursts of overload in which they need to play an unusually high number of games in a short space of time.
Fifpro’s director of global policy and strategic relations for women’s football, Sarah Gregorius, said: “One of the benefits of the international stakeholder environment in women’s football is that it’s actually pretty small and there are not that many leagues or competition organisers.
“The confederations will put on a continental championship every four years and that will sometimes double up as World Cup or Olympic qualification. So, it doesn’t have to be a long conversation with lots of competing interests.”
She added: “One thing the women’s football environment has inherited is that things exist in silos and that means that the expertise is a little bit diluted, and people aren’t used to talking to each other because some of the confederations don’t talk to each other and some of the political relations aren’t the best.
“So, collaboration and the idea of forming a collective vision is challenging, but there’s also an opportunity. Everyone wants the players to be at their best, there’s enough space in the year and we can share, and it can be amicable.”
The new report shows that 25% of match minutes for the players in the sample came from national teams, with international competition providing top-level games but also points out that this is not ideal as greater opportunities at club level provide more sustainable employment.
There has been much talk of additions to the international calendar, with a potential biennial World Cup, a Club World Cup and a Europa League all touted by various stakeholders in the women’s game. Gregorius said it is “so important” that these discussions do not exist in isolation from each other and have a holistic approach to player welfare.
“The World Cup, for example, let’s forget about how often it occurs, we see a stimulus and boom from it and it’s a wonderful platform. The important thing is to think about how we maximise what we do have and use any new competitions to better the game,” she said.
“How can we use new competitions to stimulate participation in associations, professionalism of leagues and clubs and healthy investment into women’s football? I think Fifa and Uefa are starting to see the role they can play in the broader development of the industry and how competitions can boost that.”