TMG Feature

Women's Football in Italy: A Challenging Evolution

4 min read
Cover Image for Women's Football in Italy: A Challenging Evolution
Marta Degl'Innocenti
Marta Degl'Innocenti

Over the last decade, women's football has become a fixture in Italy. Although the country entered the scene a bit later, the turning point arrived during the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

The Azzurre navigated a challenging group with Australia, Brazil, and Jamaica, making it to the quarterfinals, where the Netherlands’ physical superiority told and put an end to Italy’s journey.

Following this achievement, the nation was abuzz with news, both sporting and otherwise, as Italy began to embrace and appreciate these talented players.

Yet, the glow of success did not seamlessly translate into a smooth trajectory for the women's football movement in Italy. Despite the official declaration of professionalism on 1 July 2019, tangible changes in the daily lives of female players were modest.

Contract signings were scarce, and the financial reward, hovering around Lega Pro levels (€26,000 per year), raised eyebrows. 

Building women's football requires more than just the law; it requires funds, advertising, proper structures, and professionals.

While there were newfound rights concerning maternity, medical protections, and the possibility to have a pension at the end of a career, the road ahead was far from clear.

The decision to trim Serie A to ten teams, intended for a gradual transition, revealed the fault lines in the Federation's plan. Some club presidents, daunted by the costs of maintaining women's teams, opted to withdraw; including Empoli, a notable team in previous championships, bowing out due to the financial uncertainty around potential earnings.

This impromptu decision may seem abrupt, but it stemmed from a cold resolution based on financial realities. It highlighted that making a passionate group of girls an official football team involves more than just the law; it requires funds, advertising, proper structures, and professionals – elements that should precede significant changes to ensure a prepared and sustainable movement.

Presenting a microcosm of this struggle is Pomigliano d'Arco, a small city near Naples. 

While its male football team graces Eccellenza, one of the lower tiers of Italian football, its female counterpart stands as a beacon of potential. In just four years, under the guide of President Raffaele Pipola, the women's team ascended to Serie A. 

How can women's football grow in Italy if it must navigate and endure through surreal and frankly embarrassing situations such as what transpired at Pomigliano?

Impressively securing 8th place in their inaugural participation in the 2021–22 season and overcoming challenges in the subsequent season, Pomigliano stood as a symbol of growth and determination.

The team was ready to fight to stay in Serie A another year, however, this season has proved challenging, with only a single point in their first five matches. 

A critical encounter with Sampdoria, characterized by a red card for Pomigliano and a contentious penalty for Sampdoria, led to a heartbreaking loss and a surprising turning point, in fact after this contested match, a note on the website of Pomigliano Calcio informed the Federation and supporters of their decision to immediately retire from the league.

This unexpected stance threatened the credibility of the championship and the entire women's football movement. Pomigliano cited a "scandal," alluding to the disputed match against Sampdoria, as the reason for their departure but speculation arose about the real reasons, with some suggesting prohibitive costs that the club could not sustain.

In a surprising twist, two days later, the Campanian club reconsidered its decision. A note on the official website cited a "choice of responsibility" to defend the movement, the championship, and all players. However, the damage to credibility had already been inflicted.

How can a dedicated and well-organized movement, aspiring to elevate women's football into one of the nation's premier sports and to compete on par with other European countries, navigate and endure through surreal and frankly embarrassing situations such as what transpired at Pomigliano?

The journey from suburban fields to professionalism is well-defined, but the battle is not yet won. 

Women's football in Italy requires a concrete commitment from institutions to reach the levels seen in England or Spain, providing these passionate players with the recognition they rightfully deserve and in that, the saga of Pomigliano serves as a poignant reminder of the fragile state of the art of the movement.

The road ahead is undoubtedly long, but as the Italian saying goes, "il dado è tratto" – the die is cast" and there is no turning back.

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