MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia risks becoming a “third or fourth” option for its professional women footballers as European leagues continue to lure the top talents away, the players’ union said in a report released on Wednesday.
Australia has invested heavily in the women’s game, setting up the professional W-League and successfully bidding for the 2023 Women’s World Cup with co-hosts New Zealand.
However, with a string of internationals, including Australia captain Sam Kerr (Chelsea) and vice captain Steph Catley (Arsenal), moving to Europe alarm bells are ringing.
“With the emergence and attraction of European ‘powerhouse’ clubs and leagues, the W-League must consider its place within football’s ecosystem to ensure the career pathway for Australian footballers is dignified and legitimate,” Professional Footballers Australia co-Chief Executive Kathryn Gill said.
“For example, is the W-League a world-leading development pathway designed to catapult our most talented players into the international market?
“We must ... ensure whatever approach we adopt, female football in Australia does not regress and the momentum of significant gains built over the past five years continues.”
Australia’s top players had previously opted for the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League before returning for the domestic competition over the home summer.
However, England’s Super League and France’s Division One Feminine have now become the destination of choice.
Only two Australians are contracted in the NWSL, down from 14 in 2019, with 93% of Australians abroad now based in Europe, up from 39% a year earlier, the report said.
Gill said Australia should explore how the W-League and NWSL might work collaboratively on a “calendar year of football and a partnership that serves both our international and domestic game.”
“As the football economy contracts and considers its recovery from the economic fallout from coronavirus, it is critical the W-League sharply defines its purpose in a rapidly evolving global context.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford