Campaign group Women in Football has criticised the lack of consultation with the women’s game over the short-lived European Super League breakaway.
Plans for the European Super League, the biggest shake-up in club football in living memory, stated that a corresponding women’s competition would follow but did not go into further details.
The project unravelled within 48 hours of its announcement, with all six English teams involved – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – backing out on Tuesday.
“I don’t think anybody wants to see major decisions about the competition structure of women’s football taken not only behind closed doors but by what looks like a group of men,” Women in Football chief executive Jane Purdon told City A.M.
“I want to stress that I absolutely credit the way these clubs have backed their women’s teams. But there needs to be a much wider discussion about the future of women’s football and it needs to include the voices of women a lot.”
Women’s football has enjoyed a period of sustained growth at international and club level, with England’s Women’s Super League recently signing a landmark new TV deal and the Women’s Champions League also increasingly prominent.
The European Super League, which was driven by the owners of 12 of the continent’s richest teams, threatened to derail that progress – and damage the wider women’s game – by untethering clubs from those competitions.
The plans also did not make clear how the teams for a women’s European Super League would be selected. If based on wealth or profile rather than recent results, the likes of current Champions League holders Lyon might not be included.
European Super League ‘got it so wrong’
“Just like in the men’s game, there’s a pyramid and governing bodies,” said Purdon, formerly director of governance at the Premier League.
“Where I think they got it so wrong was to say ‘we’re going to set up a women’s league’ without consultation, without thinking of that wider ecosystem.
“The optics of it were a group of men unilaterally deciding the future of women’s football, and that didn’t feel right.”
Purdon argues that more diversity is needed in the leadership of both women’s and men’s football, especially at the very top, in order to make better decisions.
“We’re not saying that women’s football should be run exclusively by women. But it shouldn’t be run exclusively by men,” she added.
“We need more women, more black and brown people in football’s leadership. But it’s also a question of cognitive diversity.
“My sense is that football is an industry that knows it needs to change on diversity and actually wants to change, but it doesn’t always know how.”
The European Super League plans drew fierce criticism for proposing a structure in which 15 founder teams – also including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus – could not be relegated.
Former Sunderland club secretary Purdon was not in favour and believes football would be better served by all clubs working within existing Uefa and domestic frameworks.
“Like a lot of football fans I had concerns about the ‘closed shop’ nature of it and I can’t see how that was going to work with any justice,” she said.
“There’s clearly a need for a top level competition in Europe. We’ve seen Uefa make changes to the Champions League; whether they’ve got that right, I don’t know.
“I’d always rather try to get it right within football’s structures than some people say ‘we’re going to do our own thing’.”