UK sets out ambitious plan to take women’s football to next level

Government has pledged funding and range of recommendations to support the women's game

England celebrate winning the Uefa Women's Euro 2022 final at Wembley Stadium. PA
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The UK government has outlined an action plan to boost grassroots and elite women’s sport in response to a review by Karen Carney into women’s football.

Uefa Euro 2022 attracted a record global audience of more than 365 million people and this year’s World Cup final between England and Spain set a new UK record for the most watched women’s football match with a peak audience of 14.8 million.

Almost two million fans attended the tournament, which was an increase of more than 600,000 people compared with the previous record.

Domestic women’s football is also continuing to rise in popularity with the 2023 Women's FA Cup final seeing the biggest ever attendance for a women’s club game, and new records being set across broadcast viewership and matchday attendance.

Harnessing a defining moment in women’s football

The UK government recognises that this a defining moment in women’s football in this country.

The Lionesses’ win at Uefa Euro 2022, and their journey to the final of the Fifa World Cup 2023, helped ignite unprecedented interest in the women’s game.

For the first time ever, the women’s game has taken centre stage and begun to command the same respect as the men’s game.

Despite the phenomenal achievements of the Lionesses at consecutive major tournaments, there is still a long way to go.

Half a century ago, in the year of the Equal Pay Act, women were still actively banned from playing football so while steps have been taken down the path to financial sustainability, the women’s game has some way to go to realising its full potential.

Karen Carney’s review into women’s football sets out a bold vision for the women’s game.

It has raised the bar and been instrumental in setting out a clear-eyed plan to lift minimum standards and deliver bold, sustainable growth at the grassroots and elite levels.

UK government pledges financial support for the game

The UK government has said it is committed to maximising the potential of women’s sport in the future in order to sustain a pipeline of talent and expand it.

It has already invested more than £600 million ($762m) in school sport across the next two academic years to help drive up the quality of physical education and ensure girls have equal access to opportunities to play sport.

By 2025 the government will have invested more £300 million in grassroots football and multi-sport centres across the UK, which will further support women and girls accessing sport.

Last week, it announced a further £30 million investment (£25 million of additional government funding, and £5 million from the FA) to create the Lionesses Futures Fund, which will deliver an extra 30 new state-of-the-art artificial grass pitches with gold-standard provision to encourage and enable more women and girls who want to take up sport.

At the same time, pitches have been opened across the country and named them after Lionesses to help celebrate their legacy inspire young girls.

How women’s football will move to next level of success

In response to Karen Carney’s review, the government has made a number of recommendations, including pledged to create a new entity tasked with running elite women’s football that will not settle for anything less than world leading standards for players, fans, staff, and everybody involved in the women’s game.

The FA is also tasked with fixing the talent pathway in order to create generation after generation of world beating Lionesses.

Both the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship should become fully professional environments designed to attract, develop and sustain the best playing talent in the world

Also the FA has been tasked with urgently addressing the lack of diversity across the women’s game - in both on and off-pitch roles.

The FA, Premier League, EFL and broadcasters should work together to carve out a new dedicated broadcast slot for women’s football, the government says.

It also called for clubs to provide better value and support their fans, with the FA raising minimum standards to enforce this.

The government has also committed to deliver on recent commitments around equal access to school sports for girls.

It called on everyone involved in funding grassroots facilities to come together to increase investment in order to accommodate meaningful access for women and girls.

The FA, Premier League and Football Foundation should work together to make sure that women and girls are benefitting from funding flowing into facilities, the government recommends.

Also, the FA should leverage the handover of administration of the top two tiers of women’s football to even more acutely focus on grassroots clubs and the Women’s National League.

Updated: December 04, 2023, 12:01 AM