As featured on NewsNow: Football news

The Week in Women's Football: Kerr leaves Scotland; NWSL roster changes; FIFPro report on COVID impact;

This week we look at some European coaches who have recently taken on or left high-profile jobs, including discussing prospects to replace Scotland's women's national team coach Shelly Kerr. We also have some more NWSL roster changes ahead of the 2021 NWSL College Draft, which we will review in next week's column. We also examine an interesting recent FIFPRO report on women's football vis-à-vis the COVID-19 pandemic and touch on FIFA's new mandates for player's maternity leave.

Head Coaching Changes Among European Coaches

In this column, we frequently discuss major player movements within the global women's game but there have been some recent important moves on the coaching front as well. French coach Raynald Pedros—who guided Olympique Lyon to two Division 1 Feminine and UEFA Women's Champions League titles from 2017-19 and a former French national team midfielder who played in France, Italy and Qatar during his career—was named as the Moroccan women's national team coach in November 2020, a sign that Morocco is dedicated to investing in their women's national team's program.

Former Republic of Ireland women's national team manager Noel King has signed on as manager of Shelbourne in the Women's National League. He coached the women's national team for a decade (2000-2010) and he guided the women's U-17 team to a UEFA Championship second place finish and qualification to the 2010 U-17 Women's World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, the second FIFA event at that age level. He uniquely also was an interim head coach for the Irish men's national team for two games in 2013 after Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni stepped down. He has four senior internationals in his squad at Shelbourne who played in the last UEFA Women's EURO Qualifier against Germany late last year:

Defender Jamie Finn (22)

Forward Isibeal Atkinson (19)

Forward Emily Whelan (18)

Forward Jessica Ziu (18)

Midfielder Jessica Gargan (23) is another Shels player who is in the national team pool. Interestingly, King has recently called for more women to be appointed as head coaches of the top tier women's league teams in Ireland and England, "I'd love to see a properly financed professional club, in Ireland or the UK, embrace the spirit of the 'Suffragettes' [a women's team that played in the 1970's as Finglas Suffragettes] and appoint a female head coach with the qualifications to do the job and then back her with the money necessary to succeed." Currently, all nine Women's National League teams in the Republic are coached by men.

Across the Irish Sea, Shelly Kerr resigned just before Christmas last month as head coach of Scotland's women's national team. A former national team player, her decision came just weeks after Scotland was eliminated from the 2022 Women's EURO Qualifying as they lost consecutive games 1-0 to Portugal and Finland, the latter coming on a last second goal in Glasgow [ironically coached by former Scotland national team coach Anna Signeul, who Kerr replaced after 12 seasons in charge]. Kerr explained her departure by saying: "I have lived and breathed the sport for as long as I can remember, so I know in my heart that the time is right for a new head coach to take the team forward to the next campaign. I know the timing is right for me to look ahead to the next chapter, to face new challenges and to create and enjoy more amazing experiences on my journey."

Kerr led the side to her country's first WWC in 2019 in France. I was at their final group game when a win would have send them to the Round of 16 but Argentina scored 3 goals in the last 16 minutes as Scotland squandered a 3-0 lead and the match ended on a tie in a game that was shortened by the erratic referring by Hyang-ok Ri of the Democratic Republic of Korea, who eliminated 4-5 minutes of legitimate injury time. Afterwards, talking to her and her players, I was impressed by Kerr's and her player' utmost class in what were stunning and heartbreaking circumstances. She will be missed and should be leading a top club or another country's national team soon.

Some suggested front-runners by BBC Scotland include Kerr's assistant coach Andy Thomson (49), who actually coached those two Women's EURO losses from the sidelines as Kerr couldn't be with the team due to COVID-19 protocols. Thomson was Kerr's assistant with University of Stirling and his other coaching jobs include spells with University of Strathclyde and Edusport Academy. He played senior football in Scotland and England. This is viewed by many as the best choice to keep the status quo and a high comfort level for players, which we will discuss more below.

The past three managers of the Scotland team have been female and Spartans head coach McCulloch is the only woman currently managing a team in Scotland's Women's Premier League 1 (SWPL 1). Spartans are currently fifth in the division and she led the side to two League Cup finals and a runners-up spot in the league.

Another candidate from the SWP1 is former Aberdeen Dons forward Scott Booth, who took Glasgow City to the last eight of the Women's Champions League in 2019/20—though they fell at the Round of 32 this year after close calls in qualifying against the Icelandic and Irish champions in the 40 team Qualifying Stage. He has led Glasgow City to five consecutive league titles. Booth previously managed Stenhousemuir's men's team after playing in Scotland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Pauline Hamill is the current Scotland women's U-19 manager, which she has coached for three years after being in charge of the national U-17 side. Hamill played 141 times for Scotland as well as north and south of the border and also in Iceland.

Rangers' assistant manager and head of their girls' academy Kevin Murphy may also be in the frame, having been part of Kerr's team at the 2019 Women's World Cup.

Eddie Wolecki Black preceded Booth at Glasgow City and is currently in his second spell in charge of Motherwell Ladies after time at Celtic. He won 12 trophies with Glasgow, including four league titles, and has also managed in the men's game.

An excellent candidate south of the border would be Willie Kirk, who currently has Everton in mid-table in England Women's Super League. He has recently signed a new contract with the Liverpool side and the Scottish Football Association might not have the funds to pry him away, having to take out a £5M loan to help them maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kirk won two trophies with Hibernian earlier in his managerial career and was voted Scottish women's football manager of the year in 2013.

These are all solid candidates but I think we could see a broader candidate pool for the SFA to consider, including possibly U.K. native and two-time WWC Jill Ellis and others from Europe and even Australian-based former Italian international and Canadian, Italian and Trinidad and Tobago women's national team manager Carolina Morace. This might be an opportunity for Scotland to move away from the status quo and bring in someone that can steer them to regular knockout stages of tournament, as they have an extremely talented side, led by Arsenal's Kim Little, Lisa Evans and Birmingham City's NWSL loanee Rachel Corsie. The downside of that approach is that an outside candidate would not be familiar with the current squad, the youth sides and Scottish league players, which all of the above candidates have. It will be an interesting process to watch and vital that the SFA get the decision right.

NWSL Player Moves

Some new NWSL signings ahead of the 2021 NWSL College Draft, which we will report on in next week's column, include Sky Blue FC inking South Korean Women's National Team midfielder Sodam Lee (26) on a one-year guaranteed contract for 2021, with a club option for a second year. She has been playing at home with Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels WFC of the WK League, the top division of South Korean women's soccer. After joining the South Korea club in 2016, Lee scored 12 goals in the past three seasons. On the international stage, Lee appeared in the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup for the South Korea national side and at the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups. During the 2010 U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, Lee scored the equalizing goal in the championship Final and converted on her penalty kick to help South Korea win the trophy on penalty kicks (5-4) after an exciting 3-3 draw with Japan. With the senior squad, Lee has scored six goals in 55 appearances.

Jamaica's 2019 Women's World Cup scorer Havana Solaun signed a one year contract with the North Carolina Courage. Solaun signed a short-term contract on September 30 and was available for the final two matches of the Fall Series, one of which she started. She played in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup and scored Jamaica's first ever (and only) goal of the tournament in a 4-1 loss to Australia. She was born in Hong Kong, played at the University of Florida and in 43 NWSL games from 2016 through 2018 with Seattle and Washington, scoring with 5 assists.
Five players with experience abroad—including one who played recently in England—were released by the Washington Spirit ahead of the 2021 NWSL College draft. Brooke Hendrix joined the Spirit on January 4, 2020 from English team West Ham United of the FAWSL. The 5-11 defender from the University of Southern Mississippi played in five games for the Spirit in 2020. Jaye Boissiere also joined the Spirit last offseason, signing on January 7, 2020 from French second division club La Havre after playing collegiately at Stanford. During the 2020 Challenge Cup and Fall Series, Boissiere made four appearances, including one start for 140 total minutes played.

Canadian international Jenna Hellstrom signed with the Spirit during the offseason ahead of the 2020 season, in which she played in six games. She played for four sides in Sweden, most recently KIF Orebro, after playing at Kent State University in Ohio and with Motor City FC in the WPSL (now in UWS 1). Jessie Scarpa joined the Spirit on December 17, 2019 from Swedish club Lidkoping FK. In 2020, Scarpa appeared in all four games during the Fall Series for the Spirit. While she only played in 46 minutes during those four games, she drew a penalty against Sky Blue just moments after coming into the game and then scored against Chicago, also moments after coming into the match. Scarpa has since signed with Orebro for the 2021 Damallsvenskan season.

Forward Crystal Thomas played at Notre Dame University and Georgetown University and then in Norway with Medkila and Iceland with Valur, as well as with Perth Glory in Australia in the 2019/20 season; since 2019 she has played with the Spirit. She appeared in 13 games in 2019 and 3 in 2020.

FIFPRO Report on Women's Football Changes during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Below we examine a recent short report (17 pages) by the Netherlands-based Federation Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels (FIFPRO) about women's football after gathering data from national football player unions to determine how the global women's game has been affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as presenting some recommendations and projections for the future:

The introduction to the report stated the objective, "It is now close to half a year since the widespread outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent roll-out of national and local lockdowns worldwide. While we remain in the middle of an unprecedented and ongoing global pandemic, with no clear response, end point or recovery plan in place, the football ecosystem continues to be impacted at every level, particularly the livelihoods and well-being of players. The extent to which it is impacting players and the sport is difficult to capture in real-time, as is analyzing trends or making projections about a post-pandemic future. However, research is already revealing that its effects and the subsequent economic fallout are having a disproportionate effect on women and a regressive effect on gender equality. Although the virus itself does not discriminate, experts have warned that the effects of COVID-19 could include the reversal of decades of work on gender equality if interventions are not made. This has translated into deep concern across women's sport, especially in relation to employment conditions. The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently reported that progress in workplace gender equality risks being reversed by the disproportionate impact on women of the deepening global jobs crisis. Moreover, a British parliamentary committee report in July states that the coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women's elite sport and exacerbated inequality." (Page 2).

The next section of the report discussed Professional Status: "One of the biggest challenges facing the women's game is that many elite female players do not have professional status, or even written contracts. This means that it can be very difficult, sometimes impossible, for female footballers to access employment rights or gain union representation. Across the 62 countries' player unions that participated in this research survey, only 16% of the reported their women's leagues are classified as professional, while 32% are reported as semi-professional and 52% as amateur." (Page 3).

Even in some professional leagues, the players' salaries can be amateur or semi-professional, as in many leagues around the world players still must work another job if they are not in school, or facilitate their team stipend with camps and coaching positions at youth clubs that the clubs help them to arrange. There has to be a separation of professional status and the financial, with domestic leagues looking to grow (or start adjacent leagues beyond the amateur level, much like Japan has done with the new WE League, as the Nadeshiko Leagues 1 and 2 will stay semipro and effectively become Divisions 2 and 3 leagues.

Some interesting case studies in the report were:

"ITALY At the end of June 2020, it was announced in Italy that Serie A Femminile would, from 2022, turn professional from its current amateur status, with the backing of both the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) and the government. Significantly, it is a landmark step for women's sport in Italy as there are currently no professional women's sports or female athletes—and this subsequent denial has meant that female athletes have not been able to access the benefits afforded to professional male athletes. It was also announced that Serie A Femminile would receive a new broadcast deal for the 2020/21 season." (Page 4).

"ARGENTINA In September 2020, the Argentinian Football Association (AFA) unveiled a five-year strategy designed to further the professional status of players and focus on youth football, club licenses and national competitions. The strategy will include:

• Women's Primera A clubs to have at least 12 players on professional contracts by 2021, and 15 by 2023.

• Women's Primera A clubs to have an U-16 team and hold the AFA's National Licenses certificate by 2022, and an U-14's team by 2023.

• Clubs competing in the Torneos de Ascenso must have an U-14 team by 2025." (Page 4).

"CONTRACTS: When asked if players in the top women's league in their countries have written contracts, almost a third of our unions (29%) responded that that players in their countries have no contracts at all. This can create situations of uncertainty, insecurity, and can leave players unprotected. The significance of contract duration is also a factor, for a contract alone does not guarantee job security, especially if it is short-term. Moreover, short-term contracts can create immense stress for players. Add the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to a player with a short-term contract and you can imagine how their vulnerability and well-being could be further strained." (Page 5).

Note: Last month in our Australia W-League Review, we discussed the sad story of Allira Toby—formerly of Brisbane Roar and this season with Sydney FC—who spent last summer and fall in Portugal with Famalicao in the First Division, but after signing her, the club then tried to release her after a few weeks. They had to pay her for her year's contract but refused to allow her to train and she ended up contacting COVID-19 after not being able to get a flight home for weeks. (See: The Week in Women's Football: W-League Preview Part 1; CONCACAF calendar; - Tribal Football.) In the weeks to come, will talk to Toby in depth about this experience as part of our regular W-League coverage.

The players' union respondents were asked if the players in the top women's league in their country had written contracts:

"18 unions (29%) reported that no players in their country have a written contract. 19 unions (31%) reported that all players in their country have written contracts. The remaining 25 countries represent a large grey area where reportedly some players have written contracts and others do not." (Page 5).

One respondent from the Swiss Federation said, "We are semi-pro, but the league is more amateur than professional. However, we see more and more players who are getting real employment contracts as a result of a recent rule change that we achieved. We are now in discussion to have a model where more players would be sponsored by the federation." (Page 5).

"Between July and October 2020 [5-8 months after most sports leagues around the world shut their operations in March, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic], our unions reported the following:

• Almost a quarter of all unions (24%) said female players' club contracts have been terminated or changed in their country.

• Nearly half of unions (47%) said female players' club salaries/payments have been reduced or eliminated in their country.

• And 27% of unions said female players' non-financial support [including meals, housing, health insurance and gym members] at clubs have been reduced or eliminated in their country." (Page 6).

The national players' unions were asked if their federations have been in touch with their national team players about the impact of COVID-19 on women's football, with over half (32 unions or 52%) reported saying that there had not been any dialogue, 24 unions (38%) reported that the federation has been in dialogue while 6 unions (10%) had no response or other mentions. (Page 7).

This is an extremely important finding as establishing a viable communication platform with women players is vital—both as COVID-19 continues to impact sports organizations in 2021 and beyond—in order to have coherent and timely feedback on COVID-19 and other key events affecting their players.

"One additional consequence of these findings could be an increase in the number of women leaving the game ahead of their expected retirement age. FIFPRO has been examining this subject through research since our 2017 FIFPRO Global Employment Report on the Working Conditions in Professional Women's Football, which revealed that many female players have been quitting the game before what might be considered their peak. Poor pay, financial insecurity and a lack of support for those wishing to have children [and the desire to return to school or a career position, which is a common reason in the States] were among the key reasons women cited for leaving football. With insecurity around these issues exacerbated by the pandemic, further research is needed to understand the specific impact on female football players and their propensity to leave the sport (Page 9)."

This reporter has, over the years, interviewed players after they retired from the professional game and though the reasons vary, many are still in their 20's when they quit. We encourage FIFPRO to continue this research path and the findings should be required reading for women's team's management globally.

When asked if indications were that sponsorship endorsements may be in jeopardy 29 unions (47%) said yes, 24 unions (31%) replied no and 9 unions (22%) felt it did not apply as there were few sponsors if any for women's football before COVID-19. Of those 29 unions who said yes, the vast majority—24 unions or 83%--reported that the clubs are likely to be affected, with 18 or 62% saying it affected leagues, 11 unions or 38% reporting that it affected national teams, and 12 or 41% saying that it affected players. (Page 10).

Sponsorship is an area that we frequently discuss with individual players and league officials and we think the potential is huge for the women's game, though COVID-19 certainly will slow down the process some with the global economic slowdown impacting so many businesses.

"However, when asked if women's clubs were included in the 'Return to Play' protocols for football, 26% of unions replied no. FIFPRO is aware that in many countries testing capacity is limited, and that not all leagues and clubs can perform tests regularly during the return to play period (which lasts until local COVID-19 measures are lifted). However, protocols must be implemented for the health and safety of all participants in both the men and women's game." (Page 12).

FIFPRO has been implementing strategies "to continue to work with players, federations and stakeholders in the international football community to ensure that comprehensive plans and policies are being designed, adapted and implemented with specific targeted measures for the women's game." (Page 14).

"In FIFPRO's COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Recommendations, published in October 2020, we outline how stakeholders and committed partners can support players and their associations in the recovery and rebuilding efforts. This includes uniting our football industry under a commitment to regional, national and global stakeholder processes, from engaging in social dialogue to promoting gender equality. Players and player associations must be included in all aspects of the recovery, rebuilding and policy-making processes, and consideration must be given to how various forms of discrimination experienced by players in the industry are exacerbated by the current crisis. Together, we must develop comprehensive measures to address these issues. It is essential that grievance mechanisms and dispute resolutions systems are in place and accessible to players—and that players know the resources available to them. Players must be able to alert authorities in the event that their rights are violated. They must also be empowered to advocate about gaps and defects in the application and enforcement of decent conditions. We must also consider how to communicate with female players who are not yet represented by a union or granted professional status and create entry-points for them to contribute in developing responses to the crisis." (Page 14).

"FIFA announced its COVOD-19 relief plan in June 2020 and pledged to make available up to USD 1.5 Billion to assist the football community, including men's and women's professional, youth and grassroots football through a system of combined grants and loans under strict compliance requirements. Under this plan, each member association will benefit from a USD 1 Million grant to protect and restart football and an additional USD 500,000 specifically for women's football during the third phase. Additionally, interest-free loans of up to USD 5 Million will be made available to member associations.

Simultaneously, FIFA has enabled all forward operational cost payments to be released to member associations and for the Forward Development grants to be converted into COVID-19 operational relief funds—with a minimum of 50% of released funds to be allocated to women's football. FIFA asserts that women's football has been an integral part in the process of creating a relief plan, and that it remains a priority. These are good steps. The key will be to ensure that these funds make it to the women's game and filter down to the players." (Page 15).

These are indeed good leadership initiatives from the top at FIFA but it are still comes down to individual federations, leagues and clubs doing the right thing and continuing to invest and promote the women's game. Examples where these policies have not been put into effect need to be flagged and reported on.

The report's conclusion was:

"Response and recovery periods in a crisis can provide a chance to do things differently. Crises can create opportunities to reassess political priorities and build more equitable institutions and systems. A crisis can spur new ways of thinking and serve to shift harmful social norms and create fertile ground for more progressive perspectives and attitudes to take root. Likewise in such a context, years of neglect can be overturned by recognising the pivotal role of undervalued and marginalized groups.

In an industry that has long downplayed the voice and value of the player, the female player even more so, there is an opportunity at hand. However, crises can also cause people to fall back on what they know and revert to more traditional attitudes and familiar approaches. In this sense, there is a risk that progress towards more equitable and inclusive norms digress as the demands of recovery take precedence. While it has been encouraging to see clubs and players back on the pitch, training and competing over the past several months, concerns are now emerging as a 'second wave' [of the COVID-19 pandemic] threatens different continents. Stakeholders in the game must continue to apply and adhere to return-to-play protocols and the evolving adjustments being made to ensure that the health and safety of everyone involved across the industry. We also acknowledge that many female players worldwide have been working under conditions of tremendous precarity and uncertainty throughout their entire football careers—the resources and coping strategies they cultivated before the pandemic could serve as powerful sources of resilience now, and the industry may gain some invaluable insights as a result. In this, female players must be heard and given an active role in developing everything from immediate-term mitigation responses and resilience strategies, to longer-term recovery responses and rebuilding plans. Bringing football back better means not only avoiding the risk of limited gains being reversed, but also building a football future that brings it back more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable." (Page 16).

List of countries' player unions represented in the 2020FIFPRO Women's Football Survey on the Impacts of COVID-19 include:


Note: The 62 unions which participated represented 95% of the women's players who are FIFPRO members.

In a related development, beginning January 1 2021, FIFPRO also established minimum condition regulations to protect the rights of female professional footballers who choose to have children during their playing careers. These regulations include a minimum fourteen week maternity leave, of which at least 8 weeks must occur after the birth of the child.

  • During the maternity leave, the player shall be paid at least two-thirds of their salary in case national law or CBA does not state a higher standard.
  • The possibility to remain registered, and if mutually agreed not to, to be registered upon return of the maternity leave, even outside the registration period.
  • The presumption that a contract terminated by the club in this period is due to pregnancy or maternity leave. The club is obliged to prove a dismissal is unrelated to the maternity, otherwise the player is granted an extra compensation equal to six salaries on top of the remaining value of the contract.
  • Freedom of the player to decide if she continues playing or not, provided that her health, independently assessed, allows her to.

According to FIFPRO's 2017 Employment Report, only two percent of female players had children while 47% said they would leave the game early to start a family, citing the lack of child care provisions as an important reason to quit.

This is an important regulation and FIFPRO is doing wonderful work in implementing standards and holding clubs, leagues and federations to these standards.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

Tim Grainey
About the author

Tim Grainey

Have your say

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

  1. Go Ad-Free
  2. Faster site experience
  3. Support great writing
  4. Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free