‘Covid-19 will hit women’s game’ hard

‘Covid-19 will hit women’s game’ hard

MASERU-A lot has been said about the impact of Covid-19 on football and what the game will look like after the pandemic.
One thing many agree on is that the women’s game is in great danger and is likely to be severely affected globally.

Lesotho’s women’s football is in a similar uncertain situation and the timing could not have been worse because the game was beginning to gain momentum.
The Women’s Super League (WSL) is the country’s top-flight league and has been running for five years.

The league is amateur and players do not get salaries from their clubs with most of them still at school pursuing their studies. The big question now is what effect COVID-19 will have on the women’s game.
This week thepost sat down with Chris Bullock who is one of the WSL’s directors to discuss the pandemic’s impact on women’s football.

Bullock reckoned the WSL may not be severely affected financially but he admitted the impetus it had gathered will certainly be dented.
However, Bullock also suggested the pandemic may accelerate change and bring growth to football in the country.

He acknowledged that more developed leagues will be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic but Bullock said this is a chance for the local game to come back better and stronger.
thepost: What are the impacts of the current situation on the women’s game?

Bullock: The first impact is on the current season.
Obviously, just like the men, the (women’s) season has been halted. We are not playing any games and we were left with four games to go (in the league). What is sad is that it was turning out to be one of the most exciting seasons of the Women’s Super League.

We are still hoping we can come back but, like men, we don’t know if we will get back and, even if it does come back, which we hope it will, the season has obviously been disrupted.
We had planned to have a Top 4 tournament (but) we don’t know if it will still happen or if it will get delayed. I think the first impact is on the current season.

In general, and not just here in Lesotho, (the question is) what impact is this going to have on women’s football?
Women’s football has obviously grown a lot. It has gathered a lot of momentum over the last couple of years through the FIFA strategy that they brought out at the Women’s World Cup last year and we have seen that ourselves here (in Lesotho) that it has started to gather momentum a bit.
There was going to be a girls’ Under-15 league and the Under-20 (national team) was starting as well which was going to be through FIFA funding and that is being delayed now. I think the concern now is whether women’s football momentum globally has been disrupted.

This may not be the case for Lesotho, but it is certainly for parts of the world. The first thing that will probably suffer is women’s football because people’s priority is on men’s football, whether that’s clubs or federations.
If they need to cut it is certainly going to be the women’s game (that is affected) and that it is going to lose the momentum it has gathered.

I think luckily in Lesotho the momentum was picking up with the national teams and I don’t think it will impact quite so hard in Lesotho, but a disrupted momentum globally could also hurt Lesotho, I think that’s probably the biggest worry.

Probably one of the advantages that (local) women’s football has over men now is that the men’s game is going to be hit hard financially because the clubs’ budget is based on the income they bring in and for most clubs that is going to stop, whether it is sponsorship aid, gate-takings or whatever that maybe.

(The clubs) still have salaries to pay, so maybe that’s an advantage that women’s football has (in Lesotho), it is not there yet (financially) so the current situation will not disrupt us financially.

The Women’s Super League was already struggling to get sponsors before the pandemic; does the situation now make it even more difficult to secure sponsors?
It might. It depends on the sort of companies we are targeting (and) how hard they have been hit.

Certainly some sectors get hit harder than others. Some sectors can actually benefit from this, an example being insurance companies. People buy more insurance because they are worried about what might happen if coronavirus hits and insurance companies might do better.
But I think the most frustrating thing about that is that, me along with my colleagues from the Women’s Super League, have a plan in place for trying to meet with potential sponsors. We had actually planned to launch that plan but it has been delayed.

I am hoping it will not make it more difficult, I mean it is already difficult in general to get sponsorship here whether it’s for (men’s) clubs, women’s football, LEFA or national teams.

But I am still determined that we will be able to pick up again soon. There are one or two companies we are trying to get sponsorship from but we are also trying to get sponsorship for youth development around the (Women’s) Super League and women empowerment programmes as well. There are different programmes we are trying to get sponsorship for.

Is it fair to just assume whatever that happens in men’s football will also happen on the women’s side? More people are talking about the men’s game.

Now people are focused on equality. Obviously more people are still focused on men’s football, whether it is clubs or federations. FIFA is trying to push more focus on women’s football and I have had some really good conversations with some professional players in the women’s game.
There is one player I talk to regularly, she is the goalkeeper of (French club Paris-Saint Germain) PSG and she is very passionate about trying to push equality.

There is a club in England called Lewes. Their men’s team is only a semi-pro team. Everything is equal for the men’s team and the women’s team: budgets, salaries, equal use of facilities, marketing budgets, that sort of a thing.

There are a lot of people trying to push for that now but it is difficult in an area where there is a less focus and there is a long way to go before we get to that level of focus on the women’s game, much more focus is on the men’s game.
I think women’s football in Lesotho is growing but it is going to take a long time to get it to where people are trying to push it towards.

Does having no health insurance and medical coverage even put players at greater risk during this pandemic?
The worry is coronavirus does hit things such as healthcare and insurance. Obviously it does make it even bigger threat if it comes to that. What we are hoping for is to keep the numbers down here and hopefully it will not become a problem. In general it’s just not female players, (it is) everyone across the board. I am thinking it is a national concern.

How do you see football after Coronavirus?
I have been watching lots of interviews on this and things will change. Normally it is an advantage to Lesotho where we are so far behind in terms of professionalism and that sort of thing.

That can work for us because we are already where football needs to grow a lot, I don’t think it will impact us that much. For football as a whole I think women’s football has to take the opportunity to see how we can grow, how we can revisit in terms of economic side of football, in terms of health now and to see how people get back into the stadiums.
I hope we will be able to because that is a concern for clubs in the men’s side, it is going to be difficult without gate-takings.

Somebody said a great phrase to me the other day being used at the moment: ‘bouncing back better’, it’s about coming back better than before.
If you are looking at England at the moment and across the European leagues, in the (German top-flight) Bundesliga they are saying so many clubs are close to going out of business and people are starting to look at salary caps.

Those are things that may actually make football stronger, it might bring a bit of more fairness in football and certainly stop clubs from being reckless and spending money (carelessly).

Tlalane Phahla

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