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How many professional women's football leagues are there?

Megan Rapinoe
(Image credit: PA Images)

The growth of professional women's football has been a direct result of clubs  investing more money into their women's teams. Now, most top women's teams are fully professional and many countries have professional women's football leagues.

The Women's Super League in England first went professional at the start of the 2018/19 season. Prior to that, a number of the bigger teams had already gone full-time with Manchester City offering some of their players professional contracts in 2014 and Chelsea turning professional in 2015. However, despite being professional in name, the league has often been accused of not enforcing high enough standards. Some players from smaller WSL teams have had to continue with other part-time jobs to top up their wages.

The Women's Championship, the second tier of English women's football, is not technically professional, but some clubs in the league have decided to have professional status. Liverpool maintained professional contracts when they were relegated from the WSL, whilst Charlton announced they would have a professional squad for the first time this coming season.

But is women's football professional elsewhere in the world?

The first professional women's football league was in the USA back in 2001. The Women's United Soccer Association collapsed after only two seasons and professional women's football did not return to America until 2009. Similarly to the WSL though, there is a lot of variance around what it means to be a professional women's footballer with some players earning significantly more than others. The US Women's National Team also offer central contracts which helps clubs pay the biggest stars. 

The W-League in Australia was one of the trailblazers for professional women's football, having been professional since its inception in 2008. In Europe, the top women's leagues in France, Spain, and Sweden are all professional. In Asia, the Chinese Women's Super League is professional and Japan are launching their first professional women's football league this year. 

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