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You think it's all over? It's only just begun – the continued rise of women's football

A packed out Wembley watched England’s Lionesses lift the Women’s Euro 2022 trophy after a dramatic encounter against Germany. Gabby Logan declared, ‘the Lionesses have brought football home, now it’s down to the rest of us to make sure it stays here – you think it’s all over? It’s only just begun’.

There is no question that the events over the last 24 months have been ground-breaking for women’s football in England, with the BBC/Sky TV rights deal giving the nation greater access to live women’s football than ever before. The FA and clubs will no doubt look to capitalise on a galvanised (and ever-growing) fan base as the 2022/23 season is now underway.

Developing the commercial appeal of the women’s game brings with it the opportunity for participants to demand a more professional set-up (see, for example, USA Women reaching a settlement in its long-standing equal pay dispute with the US Soccer Federation). Earlier in the year, we discussed some key changes coming into force for the 2022/23 season. These are summarised below. You can read the full article here.

Women playing football shooting a penalty towards goal

Maternity pay

Prior to the start of this season, the standard playing contract did not provide female footballers with enhanced maternity pay rights. Therefore, a female football player on maternity leave was only entitled to statutory maternity pay. This entitled a qualifying player to 90 per cent of their ‘normal weekly earnings’ for the first six weeks of leave, and then just over £150 per week thereafter (up to 39 weeks’ paid leave in total). To qualify, the employee must have been employed for at least 26 weeks before the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. A club may, of course, have decided to pay employees on maternity leave more than the statutory minimum.

Now, all employed players playing in the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship (regardless of their length of service) will be entitled to 100 per cent of their weekly wage and benefits for the first 14 weeks of maternity leave. The statutory minimum rate would then come into effect. Clubs which do not offer players the enhanced cover risk their club licence being revoked (such that they would cease to be entitled to participate in the women’s football league and domestic cups).

Illness and protection from dismissal for injuries

In line with the men’s contract, the women’s standard playing contract now includes the following key protections:

  • For the vast majority of injuries, players are now entitled to their basic wage for the first 18 months, and one half of their wage for the length of the injury thereafter.
  • Where a player is permanently incapacitated (or incapacitated by injury or illness for an aggregate of 18 months in any consecutive period of 20 months), the club must give the player a minimum period of notice to terminate their contract. Broadly speaking, 12 months’ notice must be given – only three months had to be given previously. If the injury is directly caused by or results from the player’s involvement in activities which will knowingly void/exclude insurance covering the player’s physical well-being, or otherwise by or from their own gross misconduct, the notice period is reduced to six months.

What should clubs be doing?

In light of the fast pace at which women’s football is developing, clubs may want to think about moving towards greater professionalisation of their women’s team set up – particularly as many players are not engaged as employees by their clubs. This may include a review of the contracts in place with players, coaches and footballing staff.  In addition, as the demand for talent grows, if not already in place, clubs in the Women’s Super League and Championship may want to think about making an application for a sponsor licence, to enable them to employ the best players from overseas.

How we can help

Charlotte and Adam specialise in sports employment matters and are part of the wider Walker Morris Sports Team. We are one of only a few firms in the UK to offer a complete sports law legal advice service. If you have queries on employment rights in women’s football, please contact Charlotte or Adam, who will be very happy to help.



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