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WITH the men’s Bundesliga divisions one and two having recommenced last weekend, German football is now turning its attention to restarting play in the women’s top-flight and the men’s third division.
In doing so it is setting an example to the rest of Europe, and especially to England.
The DFB (German FA) announced this week that the Women’s Bundesliga and the Women’s DFB-Pokal (FA Cup equivalent) will restart from May 29. The men’s 3 Liga, meanwhile, will resume its 2019/20 season a day later.
In a video conference relaying the news, chairman of the DFB Leagues’ Committee, Siegfried Dietrich, thanked the men’s teams who participate in Uefa’s lucrative Champions League competition for solidarity payments which contributed greatly to the restarting of the Women’s Bundesliga.
“Our renewed thanks go to the DFL and their Champions League participants Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, who, with their solidarity fund, laid the groundwork for the Women’s Bundesliga to return,” said Dietrich.
“We have enormous respect for those areas of society which are still striving towards normality. And I’m happy for our clubs that we can now return to football with our Women’s Bundesliga — following the example of the men’s Bundesliga.
“The restart is a historic moment as we are the first professional women’s league in Europe to return to playing, with the greatest possible safety precautions for players and staff.”
Other leagues in Europe, such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands, have seen both men’s and women’s seasons brought to an early close. Germany is leading the way when it comes to a more all-encompassing restart of football, but in some countries where everything is being done to resume the men’s top division, the women’s equivalent is not being treated in such an equal manner.
A number of problems had already been highlighted in the women’s game this season, even before the coronavirus pandemic affected the sport.
In Spain, players went on strike last November, looking to secure fairer pay for part-time players and a minimum salary.
An agreement was eventually reached in February whereby players would receive a minimum annual salary of €16,000 (£14,300), plus benefits including paid holiday and maternity leave. That the players were not receiving such basic employment terms already shows the unfair and unacceptable conditions under which they had been working prior to taking action.
For England’s Women’s Super League which, unlike the Spanish league, is fully professional, the season had already been affected by storm Ciara in February. This exposed the amateur conditions and subpar facilities in which top-level professional women’s players are still working despite recent progress.
Certain aspects of pay and status may have changed, but some mindsets and the standard of many of the facilities haven’t.
Though all 12 teams in the Women’s Super League are run professionally, it’s looking increasingly likely they will go the way of Spain’s part-timers. The men’s top-flight leagues look set to resume in both countries in June, while the women’s equivalent could come to an end due to a lack of support.
A recent statement from fan groups in Germany, reported in the Morning Star on May 9, called for solidarity across the country’s leagues. It insisted that any solution to current problems should not leave a divide between clubs at the top and the bottom, and should not result in a scenario where there are winners and losers.
In England, it looks like there will be many losers, despite the wealth of the Premier League clubs and their determination to restart the season, whereas in Germany it appears that some of the fans’ requests have been taken on board.
“The continuation of the season is a strong signal for women’s football and equal treatment for all professional sportspeople,” DFB vice-president Hannelore Ratzeburg said during the recent video conference.
DFB president Fritz Keller added: “I’m happy that the majority of clubs in the Women’s Bundesliga have agreed to resume the current season.
“This type of togetherness is exactly what we need in a crisis. The return of the Women’s Bundesliga is one step towards a return to normality, both for football and society as a whole.
“The Women’s Bundesliga has therefore taken a leading role in international women’s football.”
As it stands, women’s teams in England don’t believe they have the funding required to resume the season safely and, unlike in Germany, it seems there will be no solidarity shown by those teams that receive millions in TV money and Champions League revenue.
German supporter groups are often criticised for what are seen by many as unrealistic demands, but the pressure they apply seeps into the organisational structures of German football.
The decision to implement the same standards across the Bundesliga, women’s football and the lower divisions, with DFL clubs actively coming forward with solidarity payments, shows how important it is that fan groups promote ideas which will change the game for the better, no matter how extreme or unrealistic they may appear to some.
“I strongly welcome the decision of the DFL executive committee to distribute the solidarity fund,” FC Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said of the initiative, which saw a total of €7.5 million (£6.7m) go to clubs in the 3 Liga and Women’s Bundesliga.
“I think this decision is shaped by great sensitivity and solidarity. With this distribution decision, the four Champions League participants are making an important contribution to solidarity in football during this difficult period.”
When the chairman of Germany’s most successful and most recognised club is using words which echo statements made by supporters’ groups, it shows at least some of their points are getting through, though they know there is still plenty of work to do.
Back in England, an article on the Lewes FC website stated their belief that women’s football could resume if the leagues received a total of £3m in support.
“£3m is a drop in the vast ocean of football finance and government Covid-19 support,” they said, and the club believe this “would cover all necessary Covid-19 testing and protocols, and reimburse clubs for their own additional costs of staging the matches.”
The £3m figure is similar to the amount contributed to the women’s game by the German clubs, but at the moment it doesn’t appear to be forthcoming from an English Premier League which markets itself as the best in the world. Maybe it’s time it tried to make good on this claim off the pitch as well as on it.
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