European women’s clubs “will seek to strictly adhere to the mandatory release period” for players heading to the World Cup this summer, the latest public tension point in a global fight between clubs and national teams that has left players in the crosshairs.
The European Clubs Association, which represents clubs across the continent, issued a statement on Wednesday declaring that international players from its member clubs will be released to their national teams for World Cup duties on July 10, when the official FIFA window begins. Many World Cup participants have already planned training camps and friendly matches for throughout June, since Europe’s top leagues are all scheduled to end on the final weekend of May.
“The issue of early call-ups is a hangover from the game in its amateur form and is detrimental to the future success and growth of women’s football,” Claire Bloomfield, the European Club Association’s head of women’s football, said in a statement. “They also generate a great deal of unnecessary tension in the relationship between clubs and their players.”
The European Clubs Association argues that early call-ups sandwiched between the end of club seasons and the World Cup will create “insufficient time for adequate rest” before and after the global showcase. The World Cup begins on July 20 and the final will be played on August 20, six weeks later than the previous two World Cups. That puts the end of the tournament in close proximity with the start of the 2023-24 European season.
The struggle in Europe mirrors that of the one taking place in the United States. The issue of national teams calling up players outside of FIFA windows bubbled to the surface in January ahead of the February FIFA window. Several top players got involved in meetings and the NWSL eventually surrendered its opposition and allowed for the early release of players in February and ahead of the World Cup. all of which was previously reported by The Equalizer. World Cup players of all nationalities in the NWSL will be released to their federations on June 26, a date specified in the United States women’s national team’s collective bargaining agreement with US Soccer. That is two weeks prior to the FIFA-mandated release date.
Much of that compromise came from the understanding that NWSL players — and especially the United States, which almost exclusively fields players from the league — would be at a disadvantage to the rest of the world if other national teams began preparations weeks ahead of the World Cup. . Now, the US is ostensibly in a better position than its counterparts.
At least, the NWSL resolved the issue months ahead of leagues and clubs in Europe, which have now made it public. The NWSL is one league of 12 active teams, whereas the ECA claims to represent over 330 clubs.
When to release players this summer is only a small battle in an ongoing tension between stakeholders. FIFA president Gianni Infantino continues to throw his support behind the creation of a women’s Club World Cup and the possibility of a biennial World Cup. The revised FIFA calendar for 2024-25 includes a much larger blocked period of time for international competitions in February and March, in addition to another busy summer.
For NWSL leaders, the problem is at an impasse. The league is seriously researching whether a shift to a fall-to-spring calendar could be realisticas first reported by The Equalizer. Proponents of the change see it as a solution to attract and retain top players, and avoiding conflicts with summer events like the World Cup. The NWSL will once again play a significant number of games during this summer’s World Cup, although most will be the secondary competition that is the Challenge Cup.
Still, such a drastic shift would present a number of localized issues, including weather problems in several markets. Any solution would require approval from the league’s board. Some, like a change in the calendar, would require significant changes to the NWSL’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Europe serves as the basis for much of FIFA’s international calendar. FIFA and the European Clubs Association also have a formal relationship, as Wednesday’s announcement spelled out. Stuck in the middle of the tug-of-war are the players who compete for their countries in addition to their professional clubs.
“This is not a matter of financial compensation or the absence of adequate protection and insurance,” Bloomfield said, “but a serious concern for player welfare.”