This is part 2 of The Impact of the Covid-19 Crisis on Serie A Femminile
The Players’ Contracts
Like men’s Serie A, Serie A Femminile will have to work out the issue of players’ contracts as well.
As was stated before, the ‘contracts’ for the players aren’t really professional contacts either. Rather, they should be viewed more as ‘economic agreements’. The ‘contracts’ are also legally binding only in Italy, so teams from other countries don’t have to honor those agreements.
The ‘contracts’ are set to end on June 30th. If the season were to continue, then they would be extended until the season ends. There’s also the issue of the players who are currently being loaned to teams in Italy. The players’ loans are set to expire the same day as the contracts were. They will also need to be extended in order for the teams to complete the season.
Then there’s also the issue of working out the visas for the foreign players who are playing in Italy. A few teams have, unfortunately, let their players’ contracts expire and sent their foreign players back home due to not being able to afford to extend them.
In their report on the current state of women’s football, FIFPRO wrote that “The lack of written contracts, the short-term duration of employment contracts, the lack of health insurance and medical coverage, and the absence of basic worker protections and worker’s rights leaves many female players – some of whom were already teetering on the margins – at great risk of losing their livelihoods.”
These are all things that apply to Serie A Femminile. Now, more than ever, the short-term contracts of the league have put the players at risk.
What Are the Other Ramifications of This Crisis?
Aside from everything that had previously been mentioned (which was like, a lot)?
First and foremost, there are the potential legal ramifications of the league being canceled. As Gioia Masia (Tavagnacco) recently told Donne Nel Pallone, if the season is terminated, then the teams could appeal the matter in court.
As Masia puts it, if the league is terminated for the season, then the teams will not be able to ‘undo’ all of the decisions made in the process. Therefore, the FIGC will have to make any forthcoming decisions with due diligence. They will need to do so in order to prevent a potential onslaught of challenges to their final decisions.
In France, Lyon has announced that they will appeal the decision to cancel the remainder of the Ligue 1 season in court. The teams in Italy could very well do the same thing.
Furthermore, stopping football not only affects the livelihood of the players, but it also affects the livelihood of the people who support them. The current stoppage also affects the coaches, trainers, and various other personnel that support these women.
So, careful consideration needs to be given to how to restart the league. The staff for the teams (who can afford them) are, no doubt, feeling the effects of not being able to work. While the staff for the teams that are affiliated with the men’s clubs are being taken care of, the issue comes with protecting the staff for the smaller teams that aren’t backed by the wealthy men’s clubs.
While the FIGC will probably cancel the current season, the focus will now shift to how to restart the next season.
They will need to do so in order to ensure that all of the progress that has been made so far will not be lost and that the women’s movement will continue to grow.
Standing Athwart History
Another ramification of the crisis is how it threatens the growth of women’s football. One of the ways the movement has been able to grow is through visibility.
Serie A Femminile being suspended, however, means that women’s football has all but disappeared from the laptop screens and wherever else it might be viewed.
Before the crisis had started, most of the women’s teams across Europe had cited the inability to generate and maintain the interest of the spectators as a hindrance to their growth. The teams not being able to play just means that this problem will be prolonged for the foreseeable future.
The stop has, therefore, prevented the teams from gaining potential fans. The lack of play means that the evangelists won’t be able to win over new disciples.
There is also a concern that the current ‘stop’ could undo everything that il calcio femminile has accomplished so far. The threat seems rather exaggerated. As Giovanni Albanese points out, this notion is ‘outdated’. Women’s football in Italy has come too far to go back to where it was before the Women’s World Cup happened.
However, the fears about losing everything that has been achieved by the women are understandable. For years, Italy has lagged behind most other countries in terms of developing women’s football. Then, the Women’s World Cup happened, and that gave the movement the momentum that they needed. The movement was just starting to get into full swing before the pandemic brought it to an abrupt halt.
This is why the anxiety of ‘losing everything’ has emerged from those who are involved in the movement. It stems out of the frustration caused by this stop, as well as a fear of going back to where they were before.
While the movement as a whole won’t go away, some in it will suffer more than others.
The Sacrificial Lambs
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has hurt both men’s and women’s football. Though big teams like Juventus, Milan, and Sassuolo can afford to support their women’s team during this time of crisis, others won’t be able to do so. As a result, the men’s teams could cut their losses. The first thing on the chopping block could be their women’s teams.
Sadly, this has already happened. According to a report by the AIC (Football Player’s Association), teams that have been hit hard during the crisis have cut their losses by reducing the salaries of their players. Some have even forced them to move out of the apartments that were provided to them by the team.
The women’s players have, unfortunately, been among those affected by these actions. This not only affects the players but their families as well. The same report noted that football is the main source of support for these players and their families. Not being able to support their families and not having a roof over their heads can have dire consequences.
Carolina Morace, Italy’s most celebrated player, recently spoke of this very issue. She also said that we should be careful and monitor the women’s wages, as they might be siphoned off to support the men’s teams.
While this might seem alarmist and somewhat improbable, this is also something worth keeping an eye on, just in case it actually does happen.
The financial crisis has affected everyone, and the women, in particular, have been hit pretty hard by the catastrophe. And yet, this might just be the beginning of the problems they will face.
‘Don’t Forget About Us’
The situation is so dire that the players have started to directly appeal to the government for help. Fiorentina’s former captain, Alia Guagni, was one such player. During a live stream on Instagram, Guagni stated that she would like the FIGC to ‘give us [women’s footballers] a hand’.
Prior to her departure for Spain, Guagni played for Fiorentina, a team that is owned by a billionaire (Rocco B. Commisso). They are a team that is worth millions of dollars and can weather the current storm better than most.
The Azzurre co-captain is not, however, selfish enough to think only of herself and her team during this time of crisis. Instead, she is asking for help on behalf of those teams that aren’t as fortunate as Fiorentina is.
During her interview with Sport Mediaset, AC Milan defender Francesca Vitale sent an SOS to the Italian government and asked them ‘not to forget about us’.
She also stated that she wanted the government to ‘please give important consideration to our movement, as we are here too. Our movement is just as important as men’s football, and we would like to demonstrate this more, and we need the right conditions to do something great.”
And unless swift intervention is made on behalf of the women, then the chance to do something great becomes less likely.
Looking ahead to the future
While the season coming to an end is disappointing, it does not mean that this is the end of the road for women’s football in Italy.
The costs of adhering to the government’s protocols and keeping the teams safe would be too much to bear. It would also avert risks of injury and fatigue that come with finishing the season so close to the start of a new one.
The stop will allow the movement to focus on other things. In particular, they can move onto the post-recovery phase and plan how to bounce back from this pandemic. Most importantly, they can focus on the next main objective: becoming professionals.
As Tommaso Nannicini and Fabio Appetiti said:
“This is also the time to bring back the discussion about women’s sports, where the infrastructure and resources were already lacking before the [coronavirus] […] We must help women’s sport to overcome the emergency and start a path towards professionalism. The two must be kept together today.”
Tommaso Nannicini was also one of the two senators that introduced the amendment that would allow the women of Serie A Femminile to become professionals. His words should be seen as encouraging, as it means they are not dropping the ball and just letting these women stagnate. Rather, the powers that be in the country are still intent on helping the movement grow.
The FIGC is also said to be looking for new ways to fund the women’s teams. They are reportedly asking that the Serie A teams donate 0.5% of their revenue to the women. That means that the women’s teams will receive a total of €13.61 million in funding from the men’s teams. The Serie A teams will have to agree to this first and according to that same report, they will most likely give their approval (Donne Nel Pallone).
The increased funding for the women is a sign that Italy is starting to get serious about women’s football in Italy. However, the country is just at the beginning, and still has a long way to go before they catch up to other nations. It is also important that we give the teams our continued support in any way we can. Keeping our eyes on the league will be one of the ways to help it grow.
It is also admittedly hard to watch Serie A Femminile outside of Italy. One hopes that the FIGC can make the league more accessible to fans outside of Italy in the near future.
As the editorial of Tuttosport said, “Blocking or even canceling the growth [of women’s football in Italy] would be an unforgivable and fatal mistake.”
Therefore, the women’s movement needs continuous and sustained support to ensure that it can continue to thrive. The current pandemic has put many things on hold, but it doesn’t mean that those plans should be canceled indefinitely. With the proper structural support, il calcio femminile in Italy can continue to grow. If the Italian authorities are serious about the movement, then they will have to give it what it needs to do so.
This piece was written between April and May and since then a lot has happened. The league was cancelled on June 8th, ending with no assigned winner, despite Juventus having accumulated the most points. The final Champions League slot was decided via an algorithm, and Fiorentina obtained it and finished in second, due to the strength of their five-goal differential with AC Milan.
Then on June 28th, the biggest happened. On that day, the FIGC declared that Serie A Femminile would become a professional league starting from the 2022/2023 season. The declaration means that Serie A Femminile will become the second women’s league to go professional in Europe, right behind the FA WSL.
Despite the declaration of professionalism, many structural problems still exist in women’s football in Italy.
Despite the fact that Serie A Femminile season will begin a new season on August 23rd, only five or six teams are able to resume training while fully adhering to the government-mandated health protocols. These are the words of none other than Gabriele Gravina, the FIGC’s president himself. Therefore, Gravina wants the health protocols for the resumption of play to be revised, as he fears it could hurt both the women’s and men’s teams in the long run.
The players, on the other hand, might feel differently, as they feel that modifying the protocols might jeopardize their safety. This is something to watch within the upcoming days, as this will be a potential flashpoint between the federation and the players.
The lack of a professional status, along with the proper structural support, has also led to an exodus of Italy’s best players. Alia Guagni, the former captain of Fiorentina, left the Viola for Atlético Madrid.
The defender left to play in the Primera Iberdrola in Spain, mainly because the league offered her many benefits that she couldn’t have in Italy. Chief among them was paid maternity and sick leave, along with the chance to be paid more than the €30,000 she was limited to in Italy. She also left so she could be seen, as playing in Italy severely hampered her visibility. Playing in the Liga Iberdrola means that more people could see her play, and acknowledge her talent as well.
Guagni’s departure was an indictment of a system that is in desperate need of reformation. It needs to be reformed so that the best players can stay in the country, and not leave it.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the frailty of the women’s football system in Italy. The entire system that governs the sport is in need of structural reform. At the moment, it seems to be a house of cards, teetering on collapse.
We can only hope that with Serie A Femminile becoming professionalized, and with the government’s commitment to funding women’s football, the much-needed structural changes will be made.
If any good has come out of this pandemic, it’s shown the plight of Italy’s women footballers, and has led to people caring about them and their well-being. We can only hope that women’s football will continue to grow in Italy and that the darkness of the present will give way to a brighter future.