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Women’s football’s reaction to coronavirus has descended into chaos – and threatens a historic year

Last week the FA took the controversial decision to void league seasons from tiers three to seven of the women’s pyramid, with no promotion or relegation. 

That will have obviously broken hearts in Wearside, where Sunderland looked destined for promotion to the Championship, and it’s thought that football bosses pulled the plug with little or no consultation with those clubs involved. 

Brighton midfielder Léa Le Garrec accused her FA Women’s Super League club of continuing to go about their business as usual despite the government’s strict measures. In an interview with L'Équipe she added she couldn’t understand Hope Powell’s decision to host training sessions on site when many clubs throughout the division have given their foreign players the opportunity to reunite with their families.

More worryingly, Le Garrec added the club doctor was not present, nor did the players have their temperatures taken on returning to the club’s training base after a four-day rest period.

France team-mate and Arsenal goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin then revealed on Sunday that she has contracted the virus. Speaking in a video posted by Olympique Lyonnais winger Elodie Thomis, the shot-stopper seems to suggest she even travelled back to London from her home in Lyon despite “ticking a lot of boxes” for COVID-19 symptoms, including a fever, respiratory discomfort and a constant headache.

We also saw the likes of injured Arsenal and England star Beth Mead take to Twitter in the hope of securing equipment vital to her ongoing rehabilitation from a knee injury sustained in February. How could the defending champions - one of the better financially supported clubs in the women’s top flight - leave a senior player without the necessary aids for her recovery? 

And the troubling list doesn’t stop there. 

There are also growing fears those teams in the WSL without the backing of a Premier League club could fold. Rather than offering to bail them out, the FA seem hell-bent on simply reopening licensing applications from the Championships to keep up the numbers.

Players – who, let’s remember, are on modest salaries at best – are also finding themselves in a precarious financial position. Many have mortgages to pay or rent payments to meet, much like you and I. Some even have small businesses to prop up their income from football, but in the current climate, they are struggling, too. Now there is a genuine concern over whether their parent clubs will be able to pay their wages and where their future lies if their existing contracts expire in May and the current season rolls on into the late summer months. 

As we keep hearing, these are unprecedented times and the coronavirus unquestionably brings the biggest crisis since the Second World War, but it does feel like women’s football is showing glaring signs of vast inexperience. 

Many women’s teams across the top flight have gone into hibernation and taken the stance to shut out the media at all costs rather than capitalise on opportunities for coverage, with many newspaper editors scrambling to fill pages in the absence of live sport. Although it prompted football authorities to offer some stern words in an attempt to change their minds, little has changed thus far.

WSL clubs have between six and nine matches still to play this season, depending on games in hand. Like all Premier League and EFL games, the top two tiers of women's football have also been suspended until at least April 30. Whether or not the season resumes in July – as widely speculated in the men’s game – women’s teams would be well advised to use this impromptu break wisely. After a historic 12 months for women’s football in this country, we simply can’t afford to blow all the good work now. 

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