Fans of women’s top football league in France are up in arms at the substandard coverage offered by French television, which they say is symptomatic of broader neglect of the sport in a country that was long a powerhouse of the women’s game in Europe but is now falling behind.
Footballers playing for the world’s richest club could be forgiven for expecting state-of-the-art facilities and maximum exposure – unless they are women.
When the women’s team of Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) last played a home game, hosting Rodez at their Camp des Loges ground outside Paris, viewers watching on their television screens at home could barely make out the players running about on the dimly lit pitch.
The next day, football fans who tuned in for the heavyweight clash between Guingamp and Le Havre experienced similar frustration, the spectacle blurred out by raindrops covering a poorly attended camera lens.
Such sub-par broadcasts are all too familiar to fans of D1 Arkema, the women’s top football league in France, according to the online magazine Footeuses, which published an open letter last week demanding “respect and consideration for women’s football in France”.
The letter soon went viral on social media, prompting a flurry of reactions from disgruntled fans, says Clément Gauvin, who cofounded Footeuses in the wake of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the first to be hosted on French soil.
LETTRE OUVERTE 🔴
Terrain mal éclairé, pelouse catastrophique et retransmission scandaleuse. Depuis plusieurs semaines, les signaux inquiétants se multiplient dans le football féminin français.
Pour les joueuses et l’intérêt du public, il est temps d’agir. ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/9Q0AB82Fpp
— Footeuses (@foo_teuses) January 19, 2023
“Some people told us they’d stopped following the women’s game because it had become ‘unwatchable’; others said they stopped playing football altogether because of the lack of facilities and shoddy pitches girls are relegated to,” Gauvin said.
“We watch women’s football on a daily basis and we have witnessed increasingly worrying signs in recent months,” he added, citing “lousy” television coverage. “You never see this in other sports. The future of the game depends on the quality of the broadcasts.”
Bring your own scaffolding
Canal+, which owns the TV rights, says it is aware of the problem, which it blames on “technical” problems it has little or no control over.
“Of course we are disappointed with the poor quality of the show offered to our subscribers, but unfortunately we are faced with difficulties that do not depend on us,” Thomas Sénécal, the group’s director of sports, told France’s sports daily L’Équipe last week.
“Over the past four years, we have been doing our utmost to promote the (women’s) league, but we cannot do so alone. We need the French Football Federation (FFF) and the clubs to raise standards and make the league more professional,” Sénécal added. He pointed to inadequate facilities at most of the league’s stadiums, noting that Canal+ crews often “don’t know where to put their cameras, cannot protect them from bad weather and face problems with lighting”.
Gauvin conceded that the lack of infrastructure is a key factor in the poor coverage, particularly in the smaller stadiums where television crews have to erect scaffolding to get a decent vantage point. When they cannot do so, “the camera necessarily stays at ground level and the picture is terrible”, he acknowledged.
“However, it’s not only about the facilities. In the men’s game, Canal+ provides more than 30 cameras for a single match. For the women, it’s just two cameras,” Gauvin added. “There is a lack of professionalism on their part too. The commentators often don’t know the women’s game; they get muddled up with the players’ names. The players frequently take to social media to flag their mistakes.”
With Canal+’s broadcasting rights set to expire at the end of the season, the lack of bidding rivals has heightened concerns that the broadcaster will do little to raise its game – or indeed raise the stakes.
Since 2018, the media group has paid €1.2 million per season for TV rights, a six-fold increase on the previous contract. However, the momentum appears to be drying up in France at a time when television rights for women’s football – a key source of income for clubs – are soaring elsewhere in Europe.
That is particularly the case in England, where Sky Sports and the BBC have agreed to splash out 8 million British pounds (€9.1 million) per season for the women’s Super League, in a lucrative package that includes some free-to-air broadcasting.
“The fact that Canal+ is yet to make a move with just 6 months to go before the contract expires denotes a lack of interest on its part. There’s a real risk we will end up with a ridiculous price compared to what is happening elsewhere,” said Gauvin, calling on the government to step in and uphold the interests of women’s football.
A missed opportunity
France has long been a bastion of the women’s game in Europe, powered by the successes of its two biggest clubs – PSG and Olympique Lyonnais. The latter club has won a staggering eight Champions League titles over the past 15 years.
“We used to be ahead of other European countries, but the lack of investment in the sport means we are now falling behind,” said Gauvin, pointing to the increasingly unflattering comparison with the development of women’s football in England.
“Across the Channel, they managed to build on the success of the Euro-2022 tournament they hosted – whereas we failed to do so after the World Cup in 2019,” he added, noting that the top teams in England often play in the same stadiums as the men, regularly drawing crowds of “between 30,000 and 40,000 spectators”, thanks in part to attractive pricing strategies and a strong footprint on social media.
His words echoed a recent assessment by Les Bleues star Wendy Renard, Lyon’s longtime captain, who lamented France’s “failure to ride the wave of enthusiasm” after the World Cup in 2019. “It wasn’t just Covid – we failed to keep up the momentum and now we’re stagnating,” Renard told L’Equipe, reflecting on a tournament that failed to generate lasting interest in women’s football in France despite raising high hopes of a breakthrough.
Le terrain catastrophique proposé à l’équipe féminine de Nîmes (D2) pour jouer ses matches officiels à domicile. 🤯
🎥 Béatrice Kaboré pic.twitter.com/81fQcaGJUo
— Footeuses (@foo_teuses) January 24, 2023
The lack of adequate coverage is not the only culprit. Players also bemoan the poor quality of football pitches, which hinders their play and increases the likelihood of injuries. In its open letter, Footeuses cited a study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine that showed women footballers are twice as likely to sustain serious injuries as their male counterparts.
“We need to give women’s football the means to succeed,” Gauvin summed up. “If we don’t act, things will only get worse and we’ll fall further behind.”
This article was translated from the original in French.