The English FA announced Tuesday that beginning in 2017, the Women’s Super League (FA WSL) will no longer run during the summer months, and will instead revert to a more traditional schedule that runs alongside the men’s season.
The new calendar will see the league run between September and May, and no longer between March and November. This will align with the rest of the women’s soccer pyramid in Europe, which also runs between the autumn and spring. The SSE Women’s FA Cup will also be integrated, with the final at the end of the season.
To bridge the gap between this year’s league finishing in November and next year’s starting after the Women’s European Championships, a one-off ‘Spring Series’ will run between February and May.
Each team will play each other once as they compete for their division’s Spring Series trophy.
The move, which will no doubt generate mixed reactions from fans of the women’s game in England, has been introduced, in the FA’s words, “to increase player welfare, further grow and develop the league and attendances, address issues around fixture congestion and planning and provide the platform for a winning England team.”
Issues surrounding fixtures have been a major gripe for both players and supporters, with large gaps and sporadic clusters of matches making it difficult for fans to follow.
Another argument for the move is that it will give clubs in England a better chance of being competitive in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Later rounds of the competition come right at the start of the FA WSL season, meaning clubs are not as match-sharp as they would like to be, especially when coming up against clubs in countries such as Germany and France, who are well into their domestic calendar.
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The FA WSL was launched as a summer league in 2011, with eight teams, and is now in its sixth season. In 2014 a second division, FA WSL 2, was created and there are now 19 teams across the two tiers.
“When we launched the FA WSL in 2011 it was the right decision to play it as a summer league, which has been demonstrated by the competitive, exciting football, growing attendances and player development,” FA director of football participation and development Kelly Simmons said.
“However, there are still a number of issues holding the league back, such as fixture scheduling and ground availability. We want to keep building on the momentum and growth of the league and we believe now is the right time to change the calendar.
“The move is designed to bring many benefits to the women’s game and we’ve worked closely with our clubs and other stakeholders in making this decision.
“Player welfare is the prime concern of clubs and for us and these changes will allow more structured rest and recovery time, while fixtures will be more regularly structured with less congestion.
“The FA is committed to investing in women’s football and aims to double participation and attendances by 2020, as well as creating the right environment for England to have the best chance of winning the 2023 World Cup and we believe that these changes will help us to further achieve these aims.
“This is a really exciting time for the women’s game and we will work alongside our clubs to ensure we support them in the transition, across areas such as contracts, marketing and fixtures to make sure that it proves a big success.”
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