Wake-up call for women’s game in Italy ahead of new season
MILAN (AP) — For women’s soccer in Italy, the coronavirus pandemic served as a rude awakening.
While the men’s game managed to resume in June, the decision was eventually made not to restart the women’s season which had been halted in February.
Juventus was declared champion — winning the Women’s Serie A title for the third straight year — but the Bianconeri were nevertheless among the most disappointed.
“We really did everything we can do for (a chance to) start again the season,” Stefano Braghin, general director of women’s football at Juventus, told The Associated Press. “We are compliant with all the protocols. We organize all our activities in line with the government statements and the federation statements.
“So the fact that most of the clubs are not in line with them and so didn’t allow us to play was a bit disappointing for us.”
Juventus kicks off the new season and its title defense at Hellas Verona on Saturday. Fiorentina also plays Saturday, against Inter Milan, and Napoli visits Bari, before the rest of the opening round of matches on Sunday.
Braghin said the last season being called off should serve as a wake-up call “because if we are not ready it means that we are not so developed as we probably thought.” He said “only two or three clubs were ready to start and the other eight or nine have huge problems for many different reasons to be in line with the protocol.”
Braghin added “probably we have still some steps forward to make before being at the standing that we deserve.”
The women’s game has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last few years in Italy with significant investment in women’s teams at club level by giants of the men’s game.
Interest is growing and Serie A was riding a wave of optimism and enthusiasm on the back of record viewing figures for last year’s Women’s World Cup, where Italy reached the quarterfinals.
“After the World Cup in Italy ... probably the perception of the people is that the system is more developed than what it really is,” Braghin said.
“So this stop on one side, of course, was disappointing for us. But on the other hand, probably (it) is the occasion to let the people know that there are still a lot of things to do in terms of investment and growth of all the game ... we have still to work hard to get to the level of the top European leagues.”
One of the most important steps is to make the women’s game professional, which the Italian Football Federation said in June that it aims to do by 2022. Female players are still considered amateurs by Italian law. Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora has previously said he supports changing the 1981 law.
Braghin considered this “a good, good start. Now you have to understand how to do it and how to make it sustainable for the clubs.”
While important discussions for the women’s game are happening off the pitch, action will finally resume on it this weekend with the start of the new season.
“We all can’t wait to be out there again because we’ve been waiting for this moment for six months, we are very happy, we’re very motivated,” AC Milan defender Laura Fusetti told the AP ahead of her team’s match against Florentia on Sunday.
Milan was one of the teams worst affected when the decision was made to definitively suspend the season as it was beaten on goal difference by Fiorentina to second spot and a place with Juventus in next season’s Champions League.
“It was a huge blow because we really believed in the race for winning a Champions League spot, we couldn’t wait to play that game against Fiorentina,” Fusetti said. “So there was a bit of bitterness ... unfortunately there were bigger problems which we had to face and that was right.
“We’ll transform this bitterness into something positive and it will be an extra gear for us for this year, to start the season in the best way possible because obviously we still have the same aim this year.”
Fusetti said the disappointment was even greater because interest was growing in the women’s game but believed this will give her teammates even more motivation to prove their worth.
“Especially after the World Cup women’s soccer managed to show the world that it had its own value, we managed to turn a lot of people into fans of our soccer,” she said. “Certainly continuing the season, like the men’s, would have given that more value, would have made people continue following us.
“Unfortunately there weren’t all the conditions to do so but I believe that right from the start, right from this weekend we can continue on this path that women’s soccer has been on for several years by now. We just have to continue giving our maximum and show that our soccer is also beautiful, just as the men’s is.”
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