The Shadow Minister for Sport, Alison McGovern, insists completely cancelling the Women’s Super League is ‘not good enough’ and challenged the government to ‘do much better’.
The Labour MP for Wirral South chastised the Football Association for deciding to completely curtail women’s football in the UK while the Premier League is set to return on June 17.
A statement from the FA last week confirmed the cancellation of the top two women’s divisions.
‘Project Restart’ has captured the imagination of the nation with the country gripped in the midst of a global pandemic, and the return of top-flight men’s football has presented a glimmer of hope and promise.
Yet McGovern is dismayed to see the government not capitalising on the attention gained by the women’s game over the past 12 months, helped in large by England’s run in the World Cup in France last year.
The decision to broadcast the Premier League on terrestrial television but not women’s football has irked the MP, who told talkSPORT 2 she feels cancelling the league completely is unfair.
“I suppose I have longed to see women’s football getting the attention and the adoration that I would say, certainly last year, it deserves,” said McGovern, speaking on the Women’s Football Weekly show (every Monday at 6-7pm on talkSPORT2).
“And we all understand the financial realities of the game, but I think just moving to cancel the Women’s Super League without a broader plan to say, ‘look, we’ve got to do this because of this virus, but actually here is a big broad plan of how we’re going to maximise every possible opportunity to get visibility for the women’s game, to develop the elite side of things and also, crucially, a plan for grassroots as well’.
“We need to hear urgently from the FA and from Premier League clubs what their intentions are. Will women continue to pay the price for a ban 99 years ago, that still overshadows women in football today? Or is there a road to equality? Women players and supporters deserve answers.”
“So that the next generation of young, women footballers are not going to lose out.
“I think if I had seen a plan like that, I could have swallowed the slightly high-handed manner in which the league was cancelled. But we need so much better than this, that’s the point I am trying to make.
12million fans watched England’s semi-final defeat to the USA last summer, with 350,000 more women over the age of 16 since deciding to take up the sport.
The FA have claimed 3.4m girls in total now play football, with a 54 per cent increase in the number of women and girls’ affiliated teams.
However, McGovern believes this grassroots explosion could well be undermined by the lack of effort and worries girls in the future could lose out.
“I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of any player or any participant in the game,” she continued.
“I know that they are incredibly proud of what they do, but I think as a politician I would say the women’s game needs much more respect than it is getting at the moment.
“Certainly organisationally, including from government actually. Look at the amount of time and effort and media attention that the government have drawn to ‘Project Restart’ for the Premier League.
“Has there been anything like that level of attention and effort from government, never mind the FA, on the women’s game. I don’t think so.
“So I think it is my job as an angry politician on behalf of everybody, all the angry participants to say, ‘you know what? This is not good enough and we want better than this’.”
She added: “What I worry about is that, unless somebody makes a fuss, then all the attention will be on the men’s game.
“As I was saying before, I really respect the athletes involved in playing women’s football and also all of those professionals.
“They need to get on and do their professional job and they haven’t got time to be pestering the government and explaining, in quite clear terms, how important this is.
“I see that as my role to bang a massive drum and say, ‘no, we need the level of attention and resource that has been put towards the restart of sport and focusing that on the women’s game’.
“And from the government side and what they know about the virus and how we might be able to bring back supporters at some point in the future.
“We need to bring all of that together and come up with a plan that everybody can get behind because, at the moment, it feels like drift.
“So I hope the more attention we can draw to this issue, the more focus we can get on it and then these opportunities could be properly explored.”