6 Jun 2024

A-League Women's 'risks falling behind if it stands still'

4:46 pm on 6 June 2024
Chloe Knott of the Phoenix during the  A-League Women's.

Chloe Knott of the Phoenix during the A-League Women's. Photo: Photosport / Masanori Udagawa

World Cup footballers are calling for the A-League Women's competition to adopt full-time professionalism, but they do not believe the league should be expanded.

On Thursday, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) released a report which highlighted the A-League was slipping behind other women's football leagues overseas.

The minimum wage for the A-League Women (ALW) increased to $25,000 for a 35-week contract in the 2023-24 season and, while the PFA noted the increase in wages, they said "the gap to the world's pace-setting leagues is clearly growing".

The most recent survey of ALW players showed 60 percent of players were still working outside football to get by, and nearly half (41 percent) of those work 21 or more hours per week.

Former Wellington Phoenix vice-captain Chloe Knott abruptly left during last season citing the pressures of combining work and play.

The midfielder had played in every Phoenix game before opting to put her professional football career on hold, having found it too difficult to work full-time and be a part-time footballer while also meeting her financial obligations.

Half of the Matildas' World Cup players surveyed by PFA wanted full-time professionalism for the ALW, echoing comments made by Football Ferns captain Ali Riley during last year's World Cup about the importance of the ALW in progressing football in New Zealand.

"Now more than ever, the league risks falling behind if it stands still," according to the PFA.

"As our best players experience elite standards and conditions abroad, they are recognising that it will be increasingly difficult for the next generation to make the leap they once did, especially if those players are not afforded the opportunity to focus solely on football."

Riley plays in America's NWSL where clubs have been valued in the hundreds of millions and there is a salary cap of US$2.75 million (NZ$4.4m).

The NWSL is still growing with its new 2024-2027 broadcast deal worth US$60m per year, 40 times the value of the previous deal and more than double the combined A-Leagues deal.

Football Fern Macey Fraser joined Riley in the NWSL after breaking the ALW transfer record this year - proof that cashed up leagues could take talent away from the ALW.

Phoenix midfielder Macey Fraser challenges for the ball against Melbourne City.

Phoenix midfielder Macey Fraser challenges for the ball against Melbourne City. Photo: Photosport / Masanori Udagawa

When Fraser departed Phoenix, director of football Shaun Gill said: "It's fair to say we've almost single-handedly built the high performance pathway for football in New Zealand.

"For the women's game to continue to grow and in order to build on the success of last year's FIFA Women's World Cup, there needs to be greater investment in high performance pathways that lead to full-time pro contracts like Macey's."

Gill told RNZ in April, off the back of a season that had seen Knott leave, the club had approached netball and other sports for guidance on how to help their athletes off the field, especially as they realised their players were not full-time athletes.

"We can't buy houses and we can't buy cars, but we can understand and we can try and help ... especially with scheduling. So that's probably the big learning for us to come out of the season - to really understand what the players are going through off the pitch."

England's WSL became a full-time professional league in the 2018/19 season, which the PFA said "kicked off a virtuous cycle of attracting elite talent, fan interest, and corporate support".

For example, this year Arsenal Women's team had an average attendance of more than 30,000, which puts it in the top half of English Premier League clubs.

Arsenal celebrate winning the WFA League Cup Final against Chelsea 1-0 in extra time

Arsenal celebrate winning the WFA League Cup Final against Chelsea 1-0 in extra time Photo: Action Plus / Godfrey Pitt

Where Riley did differ to her Australian counterparts is in whether the ALW should expand.

The 2023-24 season was the first with 12 clubs and a full home-and-away schedule of 22 rounds.

None of the surveyed Matildas saw more ALW teams as a priority, whereas Riley wanted greater representation on this side of the Tasman.

"There is hopes that there will be an addition to the league, another New Zealand team ... with having so many different pathways to the national team now to add this where growing up in New Zealand and playing professionally in New Zealand and making the national team that adds another way to get to the world stage and is something young girls would really identify with," Riley said during the World Cup.

Auckland FC will join the men's A-League for the upcoming season, with the club saying a team would join the ALW for the 2024-25 season.

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