Making the Women’s Super League (WSL) a closed competition would have a negative impact on the growth of women’s soccer in England, according to Maggie Murphy, the chief executive of Lewes FC.
The Daily Mail recently reported that Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy is among several executives pushing for the top-flight WSL to scrap promotion and relegation, arguing that it would encourage more investment in the league if the threat of dropping down the divisions was removed.
Speaking on day one of SportsPro Live at London’s Kia Oval, Murphy suggested that those pushing for a closed competition do not understand the ecosystem of women’s soccer.
“There are 12 teams at the top, two thirds of which are based out of three cities – London, Birmingham and Manchester,” she said. “We’re basically deciding [by closing off the competition] that English club football in this country is going to contract into a very small number of spaces.
“I think [the proposal] doesn’t understand the ecosystem involved in women’s football, where you need to have 400 women’s clubs that are active and thriving and generating talent that can be sold to WSL clubs, to Championship clubs. So I think there’s a lack of understanding of the ecosystem that’s involved.”
Formed in 2002, Lewes FC play in the second-tier WSL Championship and are one of only a handful of teams in the top two divisions not affiliated with a club in the men’s Premier League or Championship.
While the proponents of a closed competition believe ditching promotion and relegation would drive further investment in the women’s game, Murphy thinks it would have the opposite effect.
She also hinted that it could result in the WSL becoming more like the men’s game, where much of the wealth in the sport is concentrated in a handful of clubs.
“I think stating that this would incentivise investment is very short sighted,” Murphy continued, “because all the clubs that are in my division will be less inclined to invest because you’ve taken away the idea of winning and being promoted.
“The other thing that makes me a bit sad is, again, [the idea] that only the big Premier League clubs deserve to be at the top table. Whereas there are lots of different types of investment that we could be going after, investment that’s really aligned to women’s football, to growth, to development, to professionalism.
“There are limited ways for us to get that investment and it’s very difficult for some of those investors to enter into a Premier League club because of their existing structures.
“So I think by stopping promotion and relegation then suggesting that people would be more incentivised to invest, I cannot see the science, I cannot see the logic, I cannot see the argument.
“If that happens, I’ll be absolutely devastated and I think we’ll see a big negative impact on the growth of the game in this country.”
Murphy’s comments come as the Football Association (FA) mulls the best path forward for the WSL.
It was reported in August that clubs were pushing for a quick split from the FA, which currently governs the competition, in order to fully capitalise on the Lionesses’ win at last summer’s Uefa Women’s European Championship.
However, Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, has said that the process of moving the organisation of the WSL to a separate company won’t be rushed.
The FA has turned down investment offers from private equity firms for the WSL in the past but remains intent on the competition becoming an independent entity in the future.