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The Football Association of Wales (FAW) has been criticised by a Welsh Government Deputy Minister for the way it communicated its revamp of women’s football in Wales.
The FAW’s plans to restructure women’s football in Wales were met with fierce opposition from clubs, players, supporters and Senedd Members.
The plans, which were announced in May, will see top tier outfit Cascade Ladies YC, who play at the Centre for Sporting Excellence in Ystrad Mynach, relegated to the second tier of women’s football in Wales – despite finishing above the relegation zone last season. Meanwhile, Blackwood-based Coed Duon Women FC will be demoted from the second tier to the third tier.
What is changing?
As part of the FAW’s revamp of the women’s game in Wales, Welsh Premier Women’s League – where Cascade played last season – is to be replaced with the new Tier 1 and Tier 2 leagues.
Tier 1 will contain eight teams, while Tier 2 will contain 16 teams – split into an eight-team southern conference and an eight-team northern conference.
In total, 37 teams applied for the 24 spaces in the new system. Cascade will play in Tier 2 South next season, while Blackwood-based Coed Duon Women FC will drop from the second tier to the third tier.
An FAW spokesperson said a series of workshops and webinars were held to explain the process to the clubs.
They said: “It was also explained that clubs would not be judged on sporting merit alone, but also infrastructure, resources etc.
Abergavenny Women’s FC and Briton Ferry Llansawel Ladies will also be relegated to the second tier alongside Cascade as part of the plans.
Why has the FAW introduced these changes?
An FAW spokesperson told Caerphilly Observer: “The aim of the changes is to make the top levels of the game in Wales more professional, building for the future and developing players and clubs.
“This is a new start for the league. It’s important to note that our champion club has never progressed further than the first qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League and that is something the FAW is keen to address.
“From next season onwards, the further a champion club gets in the competition, the more funding comes back into clubs within the league, so it benefits everyone.
They added: “The FAW has spent 18 months preparing for this process so it has not come as a surprise to the clubs. The FAW has been in constant dialogue with FIFA and other leagues around Europe to to ensure the FAW has a process that could work here in Wales in order to further develop club football.
“The aim was to look at the whole infrastructure of the Women’s game here in Wales, such as support staff, access to facilities and long-term partnership agreements etc.
“All clubs have been provided with feedback from the process to highlight the key areas that they need to work on and Cascade YC Ladies would have received such information.
“The FAW is keen to continue working with the clubs to help them develop further. A development manager has been appointed for Tier 2 and she will work closely with the clubs in that league to help them be in a position to step-up to the top league when their time comes.
“The new leagues and their exciting brand will be unveiled in August. In addition, a new U19 league will be introduced to help clubs further develop their players for the future.”
Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport, Dawn Bowden, held a “constructive” meeting with the FAW to discuss the revamp.
After the meeting, Ms Bowden, who represents the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency, released a statement, which said: “As the FAW acknowledged in our meeting, the way proposed changes to the structure of the women’s domestic game have been communicated, particularly to the players affected, has clearly been inadequate.
“The FAW recognises that it needs to urgently change the way it communicates with clubs and players, and also improve its communication with Members of the Senedd and the Welsh Government.
“The restructure is a matter for the FAW, not government, but it has been raised on the floor of the Senedd so I felt it important to speak directly with the FAW to better understand its plans and the impact any decisions will have on our ambition to ensure more inclusive access to sport in Wales.”
But Ms Bowden reiterated her support of the FAW’s “ambition and focus on developing and improving the women’s game in Wales”.
She added: “The FAW has given me a commitment that it will do everything it can to support the clubs and players affected by the changes, and to engage more closely and proactively with Members of the Senedd and the Welsh Government in future.
“I look forward to the FAW delivering on that commitment.”
A “corridor of uncertainty”
He said: “I’d like to think that I have the loyalty of my players and that they will still be here next season and that they’ll trust us and our vision that we can get back to where we want to be in the year or years to come – which is playing in the top tier of Welsh women’s football.
“Although, on the other hand, if my players – especially the youngsters coming through – want to make a career out of football and clubs from the top tier come calling offering this, that and the other, who am I to stand in their way?”
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Senedd Members react
Caerphilly’s Labour Senedd Member Hefin David, who has previously spoken out against the revamp, said he was disappointed that the FAW was pushing ahead with the plans and called on the body to reconsider its decision.
Dr David said: “Cascade Ladies play at a world class venue in Ystrad Mynach and have a great deal of potential.”
He added: “The FAW have acknowledged the shortcomings in the way this restructure was approached but it’s a shame that it took the involvement of Senedd Members and Welsh Government for them to do so.
“I would still want the FAW to reconsider their decision. We will be watching the next steps closely and I know that Cascade Ladies will move forward confidently and unbowed, whatever the future holds.
“I will continue to work with the club to support them in any way I can.”
Welsh Conservative Senedd Member Laura Anne Jones, who represents the South Wales East region, said the FAW are “right to recognise that the way they communicated during this restructure was inadequate”, but said it doesn’t help clubs affected by the “opaque administrative process”.
Ms Jones added: “I’m disappointed that despite the minister’s involvement, and the allegations regarding the process that has been followed, the FAW has refused to reopen the process and I still believe that this decision will do a great deal of harm to the women’s game in Wales.
“It shouldn’t have taken a Government minister weighing in to get the FAW to promise to improve. Football in Wales needs the FAW to pull their socks up and deliver on their promises to support clubs and players affected by their changes.”
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