The Football Association of Wales has today (14 May) announced a major domestic restructure for the women’s game in Wales, which will be in place from the 2021/22 season.
Following an extensive review and consultation process with key stakeholders, a new pyramid league structure will be defined in order to provide competitive women’s football appropriate to playing standards, economic means, geographical location, facilities and club structure.
Tier 1 remains a National League administered by the FAW, with the champions qualifying for the UEFA Women’s Champions. The UEFA and FAW Club Licensing Regulations that were introduced for the 2020/21 season will help ensure a competitive national league of the highest standard, with all clubs working within the same framework.
Tier 2 will be regionalised with new northern and southern leagues, that will be affiliated to the FAW. These Tier 2 leagues will be administrated by independent management committees with increased support from the FAW.
The licence application process for Tier 1 and 2 will be open to all clubs in Wales for the 2021/22 season. Details of licence criteria for Tier 1 and 2 and the application process will be announced in due course.
As well as an overhaul to the top two tiers, a new U19s Development League will be introduced. Divided into a northern and southern league, they will be operated by the same independent management committees responsible for Tier 2 and shall be introduced for the 2021/22 season. An U19 Development Team will also be a mandatory condition of obtaining a Licence to participate in Tier 1.
The Area Associations will be responsible for operating Tiers 3 and 4 in the Recreational Level of the pyramid. With an aim to increase participation in the Women’s game in Wales, the Recreational Level will be allowed more flexibility in the Rules and Regulations to achieve this objective.
On the major restructure to the pyramid, Lowri Roberts, the FAW’s Head of Womens’ and Girls’ Football, said: “By introducing set criteria and providing additional support to Tier 2 leagues and clubs, it will provide a stronger platform for clubs to prepare to step into the Tier 1 and therefore create a more sustainable domestic pyramid and a more competitive national league.”
“During the consultation period, it became very clear that there was a need to introduce a transitional step between U16s girls’ football and senior women’s football as the current structure was not supporting player retention.”
This new structure encompasses the whole of the Women’s game in Wales.
The FAW is currently developing a Women and Girls Football Strategy. A key focus area within the strategy is to develop the National League and strengthen the domestic game in Wales. In order to do this, a complete domestic game and player pathway review was required to highlight challenges and opportunities which would help shape the future. The review highlighted some key limitations and challenges within the current structure.
The FAW set up an internal working group who met multiple times across the duration of the review and involved FAW and FAW Trust staff from across the following departments: Domestic, international, football development, coach education and compliance. The FAW also worked closely with UEFA to look at best practice models from across Europe.
Externally, the FAW met with a number of clubs from various levels of the domestic game in Wales, and created an online player survey which was completed by 419 female players who currently play women’s football in Wales or play in an U16s team. The survey provided key insight that helped shape the new structure. Further focus groups were also completed especially focusing on girls playing U16s to understand their needs as they transition from junior to senior football.
- The current pyramid structure is not supporting player retention, as players reach 16 and transition into senior football many are dropping out. There is a strong need and appetite for a youth league to bridge the gap between U16s junior football and senior women’s football.
- The current pyramid structure is not effectively preparing clubs for the Welsh Premier Women’s League and there are currently no clear pyramid regulations below Tier 1.
- Tier 2 of women’s football requires more direction and support from the FAW.
- There is currently low awareness of the Welsh Premier Women’s League and its clubs across Wales.
The FAW's aim is to develop the National League and create a clear and sustainable domestic pyramid. The pyramid will provide competitive women’s football appropriate to playing standards, economic means, geographical location, facilities and club structure. The new structure has allowed the FAW to clearly define Tier 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the women’s domestic game with clear pyramid regulations and a framework for domestic football in Wales by 2021/22 which will allow for fluid movement within the pyramid.
- The introduction of Club Licensing in the National League. The licence application for 2021/22 will be completely open for any club to apply. The licence criteria will be shared in due course.
- Tier 2 Leagues will become affiliated leagues to the FAW.
- The introduction of minimum criteria for clubs competing at Tier 2 of the pyramid.
- The introduction of an U19s league in North Wales and South Wales which will be administered by The Tier 2 leagues.
- Clear pyramid regulations for each stage of the pyramid
- A Domestic Pyramid rebrand will include renaming of Tier 1, Tier 2 and U19s Development leagues ahead of 2021/22 season
As a result of the restructure, all levels below Tier 2 would be defined as Recreational Football with the Area Associations therefore responsible for administration of the Leagues. The new pyramid structure would allow areas to run leagues at Tier 3 and or Tier 4 of the pyramid.