Women's soccer saw significant disruption from pandemic

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Barcelona players hold the trophy aloft after the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sweden, Sunday, May 16, 2021. Barcelona won 4-0. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The coronavirus outbreak brought significant disruption to women's soccer around the world, with some players going without competition for as many as 250 days, according to a FIFPRO report.

Three-quarters of women’s leagues stopped play because of the pandemic. And national teams were also impacted, with players experiencing a 56% drop in minutes.

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The lack of playing time was exacerbated by a women's competition calendar that is more fragmented than the men's calendar.

FIFPRO, the international players' union, released the findings Wednesday in a report on player workload and impact during the coronavirus outbreak. The data was culled from its new Player Workload Management platform.

“After 2019, there was this boom of popularity and interest in the sport. And then it got really chopped at the knees because all of a sudden there was no sport, no significant women’s football on TV to really maintain that momentum," said Sarah Gregorius, FIFPRO’s director of global policy and strategic relations for women’s soccer.

“Obviously that has a very direct and real impact on the players but it also has an impact on an industry that’s still trying to emerge, still trying to grow, still trying to develop. And obviously you need to have the sport visible in order for that growth to happen and that momentum to stay in place.”

The report detailed the layoffs for several high-profile international players. Lyon midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán went 165 days between matches, while United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who plays for the Chicago Red Stars, was idle for 113 days.

Crystal Dunn made only eight appearances for the U.S. national team and the North Carolina Courage May 1, 2020, to Jan. 31. Her minutes dropped 67% from July 2019 to May 2020.

“It is hard at this point to say exactly what the long-term impact of that will be but I think if you’re a top-level competitor and you go that long without competition, it is going to have an effect on you," Gregorius said. "And also we know that during that time it wasn’t even just the lack of games, it was the lack of the ability to train, or this very fragmented approach to training, whether you had to do it alone or within your apartment in small groups.”

Inactivity and poor training is of concern because it can increase the chance of injury when play is resumed. And, in some cases, competitions returned on condensed schedules, increasing the risk.

The analysis in FIFPRO's report is based on appearances and workload of 85 selected female players from its PWM platform.

It builds on an earlier survey that FIFPRO conducted on the impact of the pandemic on women's soccer, which indicated that 47% of women had seen salaries cut or suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic.

FIFPRO has advocated that the women's game be protected from the blunt of the financial fallout. Based in the Netherlands, FIFPRO represents about 65,000 pro soccer players.

FIFA released a comprehensive report on the state of women's soccer last week. While based on the 2018-19 season, it did include some data related to the pandemic.

The FIFA financial relief plan has aided 70% of the leagues and 58% of the women's clubs surveyed. Under a quarter of teams expected no financial fallout from the pandemic, while 76% expected varying degrees of impact.


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