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Serie A: The Long Road To Professionalism

It’s been a long time coming, but there could finally be a light at the end of the tunnel

Soccer - Italy Women’s Team - Heathrow Airport, London Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

While women’s football has now seen the entrance of major Italian clubs, the players still have an amateur status. Hopefully, this is all about to change.

Sports Reforms

In Italy, the question of professionalism in sport has always been left up to each individual federation. While certain sports are now considered professional, such as football, cycling and basketball, this privilege has never been extended to the female athletes involved in these same disciplines.

The Italian government passed reforms only last November which would allow important changes to happen. They would also make funds available to those sporting bodies who would bring female athletes into professionalism. For now, FIGC, the Italian football federation, has been the only body to express an interest in availing of these funds.

Political Football

These reforms were brought in under the Minister for Sport at the time, Vincenzo Spadafora. Recently a new government has been formed, and the new leader, Mario Draghi, for now seems to have overlooked appointing a Sports Minister.

We wait to see if this situation will be rectified, and if those reforms will in fact be debated in the Senate. Meanwhile, the FIGC have just outlined their strategy for the development of women’s football over the next four years.

Taking Over

It was as recently as 2018 that the FIGC took control of the women’s Serie A and Serie B. Before that it had been controlled by the National Amateur League (LND). The date has already been set, the start of the 2022/23 season, for the introduction of professionalism in Serie A. The original idea was to have this in place for next season, but the global pandemic situation delayed those plans.

For now, those women footballers, playing for clubs such as Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina, are still seen as amateurs. This, despite dedicating all of their time and energies into representing their clubs. This doesn’t mean that they don’t receive any payment from the club.

Benefit Doubts

The difference here, is in the type of contracts that they are allowed to sign. Instead of a typical contract of work between an employer and employee, the players have an economical agreement.

While this does allow them to earn money from the club, it comes with limitations. Currently there is a maximum amount that a player can earn, which is around 30,000 euro per year. They can also claim expenses and receive bonus payments, but again there is a maximum payment allowed.

This isn’t the only issue involved here. The fact that they do not have a normal worker’s contract also means that they miss out on the typical benefits that an employee is entitled to. These include pension contributions, paid maternity leave and individual health insurance. They are also unable to use collective bargaining to improve conditions.

Tomorrow Today

The name of the football federation’s new strategy, unveiled last week, is ‘Il Nostro Domani Ora’ or ‘Our Tomorrow Now’. Gabriele Gravina, the President of the FIGC, has promised that this won’t be just another catchy slogan.

Over the course of the next four years, they want to increase by 50% the number of young female players registered. They wish to achieve international success with the seven different national teams.

They plan to improve the competitivity and the spectacle of the competitions leading to an increase in the fan base. As already mentioned, they will introduce professionalism in Serie A for 2022/23, while also ensuring the sustainability of the league.

Tactical Plans

They also outlined how they plan to achieve these goals. The first plan of action is increasing visibility and the intention is to carry out marketing initiatives, all year round. This will help to improve the image and visibility of women’s football.

They aim to make the sport more accessible by removing social barriers and create the best environment for girls to both play, and follow the game.

They will deliver an easy to access and structured league pathway, improving standards from the amateur to the professional game. When it comes to the national teams, they will create a world class performance environment and talent pathway that puts players first.

Commercial Success

On the commercial side of things, they will maximize visibility and commercial value through powerful products and partnerships. They also want to create a family of sponsors dedicated to women’s football. The increase in revenue will come from working with their partners, broadcasters and the media.

In order to gain that increase in young girls playing the game, they plan to work in partnership with the clubs to attract more girls to register. They will also look to strengthen the links between schools and clubs. The intent is to provide training and support for coaches and teachers.

They want to establish a world class Serie A with professional players which they aim to be competitively balanced and entertaining, while also being commercially sustainable. To achieve this, they intend to implement a four-year business plan with the clubs.

In order to achieve its full commercial potential, the plan is to design and sell outstanding women’s football products. They also intend to maximize visibility and revenue with the right blend of broadcast and media partners. Another plan is to design a new commercial structure with the Serie A clubs, for the launch of the 2022/23 season, to prioritize reach and visibility.

Future Protection

Of course, these changes will increase costs for clubs. With that, there will always be the risk of smaller clubs, especially those not linked to the major Serie A men’s teams, not being able to survive in a professional league. This is where the FIGC, together with the political bodies, will need to ensure that those funds available end up where they are really needed.

There will be one major advantage for the clubs when professionalism does come into place. Right now, as players can’t sign a formal working contract with the clubs, foreign teams can poach the best players. The most recent case was our own Tatiana Bonetti leaving in January for Atletico Madrid. The Spanish club had already tempted Ilaria Guagni and Elena Linari in the past.

Bringing the players to a professional status is an absolute must if the league is to continue to grow. Otherwise, Italy runs the risk of getting left behind. It will become increasingly difficult to attract the top players, and the clubs will also find it difficult to be competitive in Europe.

The future can be bright, and now at least there is a plan in place in order to achieve this.

The full FIGC strategy can be viewed here.