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Serie A Femminile and the Coronavirus Crisis: The league might resume play and finish the season

Staving off a trip to the guillotine, one day at a time.

Stine Hovland takes on Fiorentina’s Lisa De Vanna
© Ettore Griffoni | Dreamstime.com

Anyone who watches Serie A will tell you that half of the fun of watching the league is the occasional off-field chaos.

And now, some of that chaos has tumbled over to the women’s game.

True equality™ between the men and women has arrived at last in the peninsula.

As was reported earlier, the Serie A Femminile season was set to come to a close. The clubs of both Serie A and Serie B had sent a request to the FIGC asking them to formally end the season. The reasons for this were the Italian government’s strict protocols for the resumption of play.

The protocols included testing the staff and players every four days for COVID-19. They also required the teams to quarantine themselves for 15 days in the event that any of the players and staff test positive for the virus.

The men’s clubs of Serie A all balked at this, as they considered the measure to be extreme. Instead, they wanted to follow the Bundesliga model of only isolating confirmed cases of the virus while the rest of the squad continues to train and play.

There seemed to be a breakthrough when sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora had announced that the government was open to ‘relaxing’ these measures.

Even if these protocols were relaxed and even removed, the teams of Serie A Femminile would still have trouble restarting the season. Many of the teams simply do not have enough money to pay for everything they would need to safely resume play. As a result of this, it looked like the league was going to be canceled.

So what brought about the abrupt change in plans? Well, here’s your explanation from Sky Sport:

The clubs of the Serie A Femminile had presented an official document asking that the 2019/2020 season come to a close. The position of the federation [FIGC] was instead to give Serie A Femminile the same considerations as the men’s Serie A, Serie B and Lega Pro [Serie C]. Therefore, we do not consider Serie A Femminile over for now, but we will wait and see if there is a chance that the league could start again, given some of the target investments in women’s football [that would allow it to start again].

With this in mind, it would seem like the FIGC is insisting that the Serie A Femminile season continue, despite the teams’ collective wishes.

However, like most things in life, things are not entirely apparent at first glance. And those objects in the mirror are a lot closer than they appear.

The ‘Ad Hoc’ Protocols

During an interview with ANSA, Sara Gama, captain of both Italy and Juventus, said that the FIGC needs to create ‘ad hoc’ protocols for the women.

The ‘ad hoc’ in this sense refers to the need to reform the health requirements for Serie A Femminile. Gama says that the current health protocols for the women ‘aren’t good enough’, and wants them to be tightened so that the league can safely resume play. She also wants them to be on par with the requirements for the men.

Cecilia Salvai (Juventus) agrees with her teammate. She also says that diluting the protocols would actually hurt the women by compromising their safety. Alia Guagni (Fiorentina) has also echoed a similar sentiment.

It is important to remember that Gama, Salvai, and Guagni play for two separate women’s teams that are connected to wealthy men’s teams. Therefore, they can afford to safely resume training, as they have everything they need at their disposal.

There are other teams in the league that aren’t as fortunate as they are. In particular, teams like Tavagnacco, Orobica, Florentia, and Pink Bari are the ones that have suffered the most during this crisis. All four teams will have trouble paying for all the necessary testing, sanitization, and everything else they will need to resume the season. The teams exist as their own independent entities, without the backing of multimillion-dollar companies to prop them up.

Pink Bari, in particular, have made their feelings on the government’s health protocols quite known. Team doctor, Chiara Marini, has said that the current guidelines ‘are impracticable’ to adhere to. Her team would also not be able to guarantee compliance with the protocols, as they simply can’t afford to do so.

In her words, ‘We cannot pretend to be professionals if we are not.’

Marini and others have also implied that the government tends to treat the women as professionals when it’s convenient for them to do so. The statement was made in regards to the fact that the FIGC wants them to finish the season alongside the professional men’s leagues (Serie A and Serie B), while still denying them the professionalism they have worked for.

The FIGC wants them to finish the season but is also not providing them with what they need to help them do so.

It was something that the AIC (Italy’s players’ union) has also noted. They even felt compelled enough to release a statement about the matter. In their words, ‘if you expect Serie A Femminile to continue alongside the professional [men’s] leagues, then you must make them professionals as well.’

Fortunately for them, the government seems to be listening.

‘We are professionals, but only when it’s convenient’

During an interview with Rai Tg3, sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora stated that professionalizing Serie A Femminile was still on the government’s agenda.

In his words, ‘Women’s football has not been forgotten’. The proposal to professionalize the league will be brought up alongside the measures to reform the football leagues in Italy during an upcoming meeting.

In accordance with this, senator Tommaso Nannicini has revealed that there is €11 million available in funding for the league. He also proposed that the funds would not only be used to restart the championship but to help the women professionalize as well.

Nannicini was also one of two senators who introduced an amendment that would professionalize the league.

After Serie A Femminile was paused due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the move to professionalize the league ground to a halt alongside it. It seemed like the government had other things on their minds as they put this issue on the back burner.

The lack of professionalism for the women has been a source of frustration for the players. It has also hurt them in several ways, including preventing them from filing for unemployment (as unemployment benefits are reserved for ‘professionals’ only).

As a result of this, some of the league’s players are said to be considering moves abroad. The prospect of being a professional, along with being paid more, as well as the other benefits that come with professionalism (e.g. pensions), appeal to these players greatly.

AC Milan has already lost Thaisa to Real Madrid. If the league is not reformed, then other teams could lose other equally important players as well.

Staving off the guillotine

As per the Corriere della Sera, Serie A Femminile was actually set to be canceled during the FIGC’s last meeting.

The league was actually moments away from being ‘guillotined’, yet they managed to pull their heads out at the last minute.

From the article itself:

“The players of the Italian Serie A are prisoners of limbo: they have asked for access to the emergency funds of the Football Association and for help adhering to the health protocols (tests, swabs, secured withdrawals, quarantines) but for now, they have not obtained either. They are amateurs, although they make their living from football like CR7 and his brothers. And the football system [which had already excluded the idea of professionalism for them before the pandemic] has now garnered attention (and arguments, many arguments) but only for the men’s footballers, as if we were living in a one-gender society and that once the lockdown had been lifted, then only the ‘head of the household’ would have a right to live again.

The biggest achievement for the girls was during the last Federal Council (of the FIGC) that decided to suspend the activities of the amateurs, was to get an extension and to delay the guillotine that was ready to fall on Serie A Femminile [...]”

Prior to this, the league’s teams had requested that the season be canceled. They had even submitted a formal request to the federation asking them to confirm this.

The reason for this was - as was stated before - many of the teams are suffering financially and don’t have the money needed to safely resume the season.

Yet, somehow, the league was granted a stay of execution. Perhaps it was through Sara Gama’s procuratorial powers of persuasion that convinced them to let the league continue. After all, when the argument is made by a board member and someone who holds a position of seniority within the federation, then one can’t help but listen to them.

Maybe it was Gama working in tandem with Ludovica Mantovani (president of the women’s division), and the two of them convinced the federation to let the season continue. Mantovani was also the one who formally delivered the message that the teams wanted the season to be canceled.

Well, whatever it was, in the end, it just worked.

The FIGC is currently in the process of determining whether there are enough resources for the league to continue. The Divisione Calcio Femminile also held a crucial meeting on Monday, May 25th, where the guidelines for the resumption of play were discussed. The issue of funding was also raised, in an effort to help support the smaller clubs that will need help as they try to finish the season. The ball is now in the court of the clubs, as they will have to find a unanimous decision among themselves that will satisfy everyone. They also have to do so without jeopardizing the health of the athletes in the process (Il Fatto Quotidiano).

‘Strings of tension, waiting to be struck’

May 28th will be a crucial day for football in Italy. The Italian government and the FIGC will meet on that date to determine whether Serie A will resume and finish the season. It is not certain that a decision for the Serie A Femminile will be made on that day. Instead, the hope is that we’ll know more about the government’s findings and just how much they’re willing to give to the women.

AC Milan are keen on continuing the season. The Rossonere still have much to play for, as they are currently on level points with Fiorentina. They are also vying with them for Italy’s last Champions League spot and will have to beat them head on to secure qualification for Europe.

Milan are also the second team in the league to resume individual training, after Juventus.

Other teams in the league have much to play for as well, most notably the ones that are fighting off relegation. If Serie A Femminile does resume play, then it will be one of the few leagues in Europe that will do so. Most of Europe’s other big women’s leagues have had their seasons canceled, with the FAWSL being the latest entry onto that list.

In this regard, allowing the league to finish the season would be a bold move from the FIGC. It would also be a sign that they’re getting serious about women’s football and helping it grow. It may even be an act of contrition for their past sins as well.

However, before it can recommence, there are still a few logistical issues that need to be worked out. One of them is the fact that the FIGC wants the league to finish by June 30th. This set date seems impractical to adhere to, given the current circumstances. Teams will need at least four weeks of training before they can start playing again. There is no way that any of these teams will be able to start training and finish the season by then.

Furthermore, not all the teams have recalled their players from abroad. The players that are returning to Italy will also have to be quarantined for 14 days before they can begin training, which will lead to further delays.

It would make a lot more sense to restart the league in July, and to let it finish in August. This would give the teams enough time to get all the necessary training done before they start playing again.

Currently, there are only six games left in the league’s calendar. As Maurizio Ganz and others have noted, the league can play those games in about a three-week span. Allowing the season to end in August would also allow the teams enough time to recover for next season, which could start in September. Italy will also resume qualification for Euro 2022 during that month, and this would also help them recuperate in time for those crucial encounters.

Time is running out for the league. The Italian government has decreed that there will be no sporting events in the country until June 14th. Yet the August 20th deadline for the country’s leagues looms large in the distance.

The FIGC will have to find a resolution to these problems soon. They will have to act quickly and move diligently as well.

Serie A Femminile is currently on life support. If the federation pulls the plug on them, then it will be an act of murder, and one that is most certainly foul.

So if the federation doesn’t want to be tried in the court of public scrutiny, then they must do everything they can to save the league. At the moment, that means letting them resume play.

The fate of an entire movement rests on their shoulders. Let’s just hope that they don’t shrug and shirk the great responsibility that has been placed upon them.