The time is right for a full home-and-away A-League Women competition

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There has never been a better time to be a player or fan of women’s football in Australia.

With the announcement of the joint A-Leagues, the expansion of the A-League Women (ALW) competition and Australia’s successful joint bid with New Zealand for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, there is a lot to look forward to in the women’s game.

However, whilst these much-needed steps have been taken to enhance women’s football in Australia, one crucial change has not been completed.

Whilst expansion is great, the league only running for three or four months every year is not.

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It is vital for the growth of both domestic and national women’s football that the ALW is made into a full home-and-away season in time to capitalise on the exposure guaranteed from the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Since its inception in 2008, the ALW competition has always been far shorter compared to the ALM.

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Whilst over time it has grown in length, going from an original 10-match season to its current 14 games, it has never been near the A-League Men minimum of 21.

While there are a multitude of clear reasons why the ALW should be extended, it would be naive to not first talk about the reasons behind the competition not already being a full home-and-away season.

As Australian Professional Leagues (APL) boss Danny Townsend recently said, for an extended ALW season to occur “it has to be suitable and commercially viable”. This is the truth about creating a longer season, the money needs to be there to make it sustainable.

If it is created without the financial backing, there is little to no hope of success in the long term. This long-term sustainability is something that the APL and Football Australia (FA) have been taking exceptionally seriously, with it being crucial that neither body overextends their capabilities.

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Whilst this has always been an argument, the $140 million that comes with the 33% stake of the APL bought by Silver Lake should nullify this point.

It has been made clear that a large portion of this money will be going towards the ALW and women’s football in general. By having this money to spend on putting procedures and assurances in place to guarantee longevity, it just makes sense to expand the competition now whilst the money is there.

As a result of the current short format, the salaries earned by most ALW players are not enough to have as a sole income.

With a floor of $315,000 and a cap of $450,000, there is not enough money there in the current format for players in these squads to have football as their only career.

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This means that players either need to have other full-time work, which is often switched to part-time during the season, or they need to head overseas to supplement their income.

With the emergence of European women’s football which is played during the same summer period, specifically competitions like the FA Women’s Super League, players are having to currently pick between the ALW and lucrative European contracts.

At most, a female footballer who only plays in Australia can play a maximum of 17 top-division matches in a season. The money is simply not there over such few games to be able to compete financially.

This is where the ALW is struggling to retain the best home-grown talent and attract the best from overseas.

The likes of Sam Kerr, Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon have left the league over the last few seasons, and whereas once they could come back on loan during the USA’s NWSL off-season, with them playing in Europe that is no longer an option.

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As Townsend said, “It’s about making the league more competitive internationally so we can retain players and attract overseas talent.”

Of the most recent Olympic squad, only Emily van Egmond and Kyra Cooney-Cross are currently playing in the ALW competition.

Whilst of course as Australian football fans we want to see the likes of Sam Kerr on the global stage, the ALW should at least be a financially viable option should they choose to come home.

The idea of just playing a few months in multiple countries has also become a thing of the past, with many female players from around the world instead opting to go over to Europe and play for a solitary team for a season.

With football moving this way, players will not want to come to Australia for a quarter-year stint. If we want players to come back to Australia, or international talent for that matter, the league needs to feel like something they can base a whole year around.

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Inevitably, the buzz surrounding women’s football will be at an all-time high come 2023. The first World Cup on Australian soil, a national team tipped to take it to the very best – it is a recipe for success.

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It is crucial that the APL capitalise on this hype, and transfer as much of it as possible to the ALW competition. By extending the competition into a 22-round home-and-away season, fans new and old will get a prolonged fix of the best female footballers in the country.

The money is there to extend the competition and make it sustainable. The hype is there too, and it will only increase up to its peak in 2023.

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There is no better time to bring in a full home-and-away season for the ALW. For those that disagree, the question must be asked. When would be a better time to do it?

Eventually it will be extended, there is no time better than now.

Feature Image Credit: Jaime Castaneda

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William Makepeace
William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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