Last week, following months of relative silence, Football Federation Australia announced the start date of the upcoming W-League season: December 27.
For the first time, Australia's top women's competition will be kicking off on the same day as its male counterpart, the A-League, and run concurrently until their completion. It's a fitting metaphor for the "one club" philosophy increasingly emphasised by a number of Australia's professional clubs, as well as a subtler nod to the direction of Australian football generally as the women's game plays an increasingly larger role.
Indeed, ESPN understands that this equal approach to the upcoming seasons isn't just surface-level symbolism. FFA sources have indicated that the principle of equality will also be built into FFA's marketing -- which will be split evenly between the two senior leagues, and which clubs will be encouraged to emulate -- as well as ensuring that W-League players retain the same minimum wages as last season, in which they earned the same minimum hourly rate as their A-League colleagues (though the varying lengths of their respective seasons sees women players earn far less).
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In fact, when the financial fallout from COVID-19 began to be properly understood by the governing body, one of its priorities behind the scenes was ensuring that the W-League did not take a step backwards from the gains it has made in recent years. When reports circulated that women players were being asked to take a pay cut commensurate with the rumoured 30% aimed at A-League players, FFA and the players' union, the PFA, were quick to reject the proposal.
Given the women's game has been disproportionately affected by the shutdown around the world, Australian football's decision-makers were keenly aware of the calamitous optics such domestic cuts would create -- especially in the lead-up to hosting the 2023 Women's World Cup -- and were determined to shore up the progress that the W-League has made, especially when it comes to off-field treatment and support of players.
It's understood that key terms have now been agreed in principle between the players, the PFA, and clubs regarding the separate W-League CBA, though the longer-form agreement is still being worked through. Within that one-year agreement, minimum remuneration for players above the age of 22 will continue from the 2019-20 season, as will the various other minimum medical and support standards such as maternity leave.
Further, FFA sources told ESPN that when it comes to the logistics of the upcoming W-League season, it will be run exactly the same as the A-League. That is, if a hub or partial hub is considered for the men's league, it will also be considered for the women's league.
At the time of publication, a partial hub is the most likely option: teams from zones with more restrictive border controls, such as Western Australia and New Zealand, will be relocated to a more "open" state, while all other teams will fly in and fly out as per usual. The latest information from state and federal governments is that most borders will be open by the end of the year and that two-week quarantine periods will no longer be necessary.
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However, the idea of relocating teams is not a one-size-fits-all model. Given the semi-professional nature of the W-League -- many of whose players work second jobs and have family responsibilities in their home state -- organising the logistics of the upcoming season requires a more tailored approach for women players.
Indeed, in the case of Perth Glory especially, the possibility of interstate relocation may not only affect the recruitment strategy of the club, but it could see Perth withdraw from the competition altogether. As Glory CEO Tony Pignata recently said: "With the W-League [...] we won't be in a position to hub over east and play games. We're very mindful of that but we're working through with the FFA, if the borders aren't open, what scenario we can play in."
The season draw for the upcoming W-League and A-League seasons remain in flux as FFA, clubs and Fox Sports continue negotiating whether to include more or fewer midweek games, as well as how to best synchronise the two competitions on weekends for broadcasting purposes, with the option of a "live," partial draw release being considered as the parameters of COVID-19 continue to shift.