Women's football: Committed to professionalism

On Friday, the women’s Bundesliga starts spring with the game between St. Pölten and Altenmarkt at 8:10 p.m. Surprises are not to be expected.

The “wolves” from the Lower Austrian capital will – like every year since 2015 – win the championship, behind them the women of SK Sturm and those of SPG SCR Altach/FFC Vorderland duel for a place in the Champions League qualification.

Ten years ago, the women’s football landscape looked different.

Neulengbach won the title with equal points ahead of ASV Spratzern – which was incorporated into the SKN as FSK St. Pölten – with Wacker Innsbruck only a former men’s Bundesliga team had a team in the women’s Bundesliga. The Wacker women are still represented in the Bundesliga – because they had to pay for the bankruptcy of the men, but probably not for much longer.

For a long time, Neulengbach was the ultimate – then came St. Pölten

Photo: © GEPA

Important players left the club, the away games at Vienna (no money for travel expenses) and against Wiener Austria (too few players) had to be verified. With three points and 3:50 goals after nine games, the Wacker women are at the bottom of the table. Neulengbach is also no longer a series champion.

The women’s football world has continued to rotate – and is increasingly occupied by the “big” men’s clubs. A trend that will continue to grow.

The requirement for promotion

From next season, the promotion of women’s football will also be mandatory for the men’s Bundesliga teams. The Austrian Bundesliga adopts Article 21 of the “UEFA Regulations on Club Licensing and Financial Sustainability” word for word. The promotion of women’s football is also part of the Bundesliga’s five-year strategy.

This promotion of women’s football can be done in three ways according to the licensing terms. By registering a senior and/or youth team in official women’s football competitions, by supporting an affiliated women’s football club – or by organizing other initiatives that promote women’s football.

Exactly how this funding should look like – there are no specifications from UEFA for this, and the responsible Senate 5 has no real guidelines when assessing whether the license criterion is met. The assessment of the criterion? Part of a development process.

From the point of view of the Bundesliga office, the support can be in monetary form – but also the provision of infrastructure, know-how or the implementation of joint activities to strengthen women’s football.

Individual initiatives such as social media campaigns or taster training as well as the Support for initiatives of the ÖFB and the regional associations are conceivable. The final decision always lies with the competent Senate 5.

Specifically, this is a B criterion in Austria – not mandatory in order to obtain the license, but still subject to sanctions.

In theory, these sanctions are far-reaching – according to the experience of the Bundesliga office, however, only fines and a deadline for demonstrating that the criterion has been met are to be expected for a first-time offense.

Self-runners and developers

For some Bundesliga clubs, meeting the licensing criterion is not a problem. Sturm Graz and SCR Altach (since 2021/22 with a syndicate with FFC Vorderland, which will be completely transferred to SCR Altach from 2024) are in the top three of the women’s Bundesliga, as is Austria Vienna (previously in cooperation with USG Landhaus) now has its own team in the top division.

The LASK team is currently in first place in the Upper Austria Women’s League, where they also have SV Ried (in a joint game community with Antiesenhofen) as their opponent. The women from Austria Klagenfurt are also at the top of the table, with 26 points they occupy first place in the Carinthian women’s league.

TSV Hartberg has set the course in time for the submission of the license documents. The Styrians enter into a syndicate with FC Südburgenland (all information >>>). The Burgenland team play in Mischendorf, about half an hour’s drive from Hartberger Stadium. Both the team in the 2nd women’s Bundesliga and the 1b team will appear as “SPG Südburgenland/TSV Hartberg” from 2023/24.

Hartberg chairman Erich Korherr said of the cooperation: “It’s impossible for us as a small club to conjure up our own women’s team from 0 to 100 out of a hat, so we looked around for a partner club.”

No problem for the promotion candidates

The three candidates for promotion from the 2nd division shouldn’t have any problems either: SKN St. Pölten has been the ultimate in Austrian women’s football for years anyway, Blau-Weiß Linz has been cooperating with Union Kleinmünchen since 2021/22, which directly promotes promotion to the Bundesliga succeeded. The GAK is the leader of the Styrian women’s national league and has youth teams in the U12 and U13.

Wolfsberger AC does not expect to be able to field a women’s soccer team for the coming season, and there are also no talks about a cooperation. Since the beginning of the current season, however, there has been weekly training for girls – a girls’ team is to be formed later on.

Austria Lustenau does not currently have a women’s team either. Since the summer, however, the green-whites have been running a campaign to this effect locally, and there is cooperation with FC Kennelbach in the youth field. The aim of Lustenauer Austria is to be able to provide a women’s team from the coming season – corresponding discussions and preparations are underway.

An answer to a request to the WSG Tirol has not yet been received. So far, Rapid has not said which initiatives will be taken before the women’s team joins in 2024 in order to meet the license criterion.

Prominent latecomers

In particular, the arrival of two Austrian football greats has attracted attention in the field of women’s football in recent months. On the one hand, Rapid Vienna will have its own women’s team from 2024 – and start with it in the lowest division.

On the other hand, league Croesus Red Bull Salzburg is also starting its commitment to women’s football.

Starting next season, Salzburg will have an U16 team, and a screening date for potential players took place at the beginning of January. The game is played at FC Bergheim – in Red Bull jerseys. The staff and the coaching team are also provided by Salzburg. From 2024, in cooperation with FC Bergheim, a U20 team is also to play in the Future League.

ÖFB team manager Irene Fuhrmann was criticized in an interview with “orf.at” for the fact that Salzburg in particular has lacked interest in women’s football for so long. “There is no question that it would have a magnetic effect, especially in the state of Salzburg, where there are few opportunities anyway,” said Fuhrmann. It would only take a fraction of the budget to establish yourself at the top at home and show up internationally, she said in September 2022. “But it’s a club decision, a question of philosophy. You can see at Rapid that it takes time. But it does takes too long for me.”

Salzburg sports director Christoph Freund explained the long abstinence in women’s football to the “Salzburg news” with the focus that the club has placed on the development of recent years. “Now we feel ready and also see the right time to take this step,” said Freund at the end of November.

The change in the license criteria probably also played a significant role for the right point in time. According to information from “SN”, Salzburg should invest a six-figure amount in women’s football every year.

The width is missing

FC Bergheim will be ousted by Red Bull Salzburg in the long run

Photo: © GEPA

The desired scenario of the “bulls”: To develop players and celebrate successes similar to the boys. “Our goal is not just to be there and fulfill a duty,” said Freund. How quickly that works remains to be seen.

In conversation with “Salzburg24Bernd Winkler, who is responsible for the women’s soccer project in Salzburg, quarreled with the lack of a pool of soccer-loving girls in the region.

Bergheim chairman Gerhard Hofer hopes that this will change in the next few months: “Of course, we assume that Red Bull will use the advertising effectiveness to encourage girls to start playing football. That’s a completely different leverage effect.”

For Bergheim, the cooperation is only logical. This becomes clear in a conversation with Chairman Hofer. “Basically it’s like this: In recent years we’ve noticed that women’s football is becoming more professional everywhere. Which is a great thing – but on the other hand we as a village club have increasingly reached our limits,” he says.

“The air is getting thinner and thinner”

Since FC Bergheim was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2015/16, it has become more difficult. The ÖFB in particular has increasingly pushed women’s football, and more and more cooperation with men’s Bundesliga clubs has emerged. “The air has become increasingly thin for us – but not only for us,” says Hofer.

While other clubs have hired supervisors, Bergheim continues to work on a voluntary basis. The infrastructure of a club from the men’s Bundesliga is missing, as well as the support of physios or sports scientists. “It will be difficult to maintain the level. Of course it’s more difficult for an amateur club than for St. Pölten, Sturm Graz or Altach.”

Nevertheless, he sees the professionalization of women’s football as consistently positive: “It’s definitely the best thing for women’s football as a whole. For us it’s a fight for survival every year, no question. Nevertheless, I believe that it’s the only viable path that is women’s football deserves.”

This is another reason why Red Bull’s entry is the only logical step if women’s football in Salzburg is to have a long-term future.

“Professionalization is the only viable path that women’s football deserves.”

Gerhard Hofer, Chairman FC Bergheim

The search for the right place

For FC Bergheim, the tough home game against Altach/Vorderland is on Saturday (3:00 p.m.). This duel in the cup had already taken place a week earlier, Bergheim had no chance in the 7-0 defeat.

It doesn’t seem like a big secret that in future Red Bull Salzburg will be the Salzburg representative in the women’s Bundesliga instead of Bergheim.

“Of course we assume that the medium-term goal is for Red Bull to be represented in the Bundesliga,” Hofer agrees. “As FC Bergheim, we can well imagine playing well in the 2nd Bundesliga – and that this could be the right place for us.”

That’s important to Hofer: “That the width is set up so that every team finds its place – just like it is with the men.”


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Tarun Kumar

Tarun Kumar has worked in the News sector for 05 years and is currently the Owner and Editor of Then24. He reside in Delhi, India with his Family.

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