The Football Association (FA), the governing body for soccer in England, has approved a new full-time structure for the Women’s Super League (WSL), as well as changes to the second tier.
The announcement comes after a review of women’s and girl’s soccer competitions by the FA and consultations with the current 20 WSL clubs. The restructure will provide a clearer distinction between the professional and semi-professional tiers of the women’s game in England.
An FA statement confirmed that the organisation hopes to ‘improve the performance of the women’s game’ and develop a ‘stronger commercial model for the leagues and clubs’.
The changes, which will brought in for the beginning of the 2018/19 season, will see the WSL 1 updated to a league of up to 14 teams. Only clubs with full-time, professional players will be permitted entry to the top tier, and all teams will be required to re-apply for their licenses.
There will be opportunities for teams outside the top flight to gain entry through applications in March 2018.
To meet the new criteria, teams must offer a minimum of 16 contact hours for players, have a minimum level of financial investment by the club, meet Uefa Financial Fair Play regulations (FFP), a cap on squad numbers and an academy.
There will also be rules restricting the number of non-English players in matchday squads to protect home-grown talent.
The new second tier, WSL 2, will include between 10 and 12 teams of part-time players, with stipulations that clubs must provide contact time at eight hours per week plus matches and a reserve team.
The regional divisions of the Women's Premier League will remain as the third and fourth tier.
"This announcement is a landmark moment for women’s football in this country. The changes will continue our journey to transform key elements of the women's game," said Katie Brazier, the FA's head of women's leagues and competitions. "It will provide an elite performance environment that will produce more and better players, increase the interest and excitement via a more competitive league, attract a greater number of fans and in turn deliver improved commercial viability for clubs and the leagues."