LIVERPOOL LADIES Champions League opponents Brescia Calcio Femminile are due to get their 2015/16 league season underway today (Sunday, October 18) as they take on newly promoted Vittorio Veneto. Yet just a couple of days ago the Italian Serie A club issued a statement on their website and across social media channels supporting their players decision to strike with the Italian Footballers Association (AIC) against the Italian FA (FIGC) and in doing so, refusing to play the opening game.
President Guiseppe Cesari was quoted as saying that he wants to "continue to believe in and support this initiative which will bring change" and that he "hoped the decision would be supported by other presidents and football fans".
Having spoken to some Brescia fans and players over the course of the 2 legs, I was intrigued to find out more about the situation unfolding in Italy. Maria Gatti, who had contacted @LFCladiesfans on Twitter after the first leg, has answered a number of questions to shine some light on the league in Italy.
The bizarre way in which the league is structured was set out to me by Maria;
- Italian Serie A currently has 12 teams and this season will run from October 2015 to May 2016
- Like in England, the winner and runner up qualify for the Champions League
- However the number of relegation places is unknown: nobody knows how many teams will go down at the end of the campaign and this, she says "is one of the infinite problems in Italian women's football."
From an outsider's point of view it certainly seems odd, in 2014/15 "there were 14 teams. The last 3 were suddenly demoted, while from positions 8 to 11 they played in the play off. The winner remained in Serie A and the other 3 relegated to Serie B."
Maria explained how this strike was a decision made by the players to protect their rights, and compared it to the stand-off between the Australian women's team and their football association last month - the Matildas went on strike and did not travel to the US for a pre-arranged friendly with the World Cup winners.
However not all Italian teams are united, meaning that if the team Brescia were facing did not also strike then Brescia would forfeit the 3 points at their oppositions gain. Officially only Brescia and Florentina declared their stance on the strike.
Brescia's reasons in favour of the strike, as set out by their players, being that "they want the rights they deserve, equality and respect. They don't want promises but laws and facts."
Florentina on the other hand did not support the strike, thinking "that a strike of this kind would not lead to anything."
The Australians key demands in their dispute, as summarised in The Guardian, were as follows: they wanted pay equality and equality of opportunity, a career pathway to be established for elite women footballers and a provision of basic minimum standards setting out the commitment and requirements necessary for high performance standards in international football.
The Italians laid out their plans for the players to strike in a statement published on the AIC website, claiming that "after years of broken promises and words, women's football in Italy has truly arrived at its turning point." They want "concrete investments as in other European nations" for the country to "have the development and growth that it deserves", saying that to not invest would be "the umpteenth missed opportunity".
And they go on to say "it is not a protest against someone, but a protest to do something concrete in favour of all the components of the movement", "no more 'promises to do' that are lost in an indefinite future, but facts and answers visible now".
On October 6th a meeting was held to discuss the requests of the players, and with no written agreement from the FA as requested as of the 16th, the decision was made to abstain from the opening round of games.
Short term, the Italians threat to strike seems to have paid off and the opening round of games will be played after an agreement was reached early on Saturday between the Italian FA and the organisation representing the players. The AIC announced their withdrawal of the planned strike after the Italian FA president has vowed to bring the "attention of the relevant federal agencies" to the "issues raised by the AIC".
Speaking to Maria about the challenges facing Italian women's football has been eye-opening and I can only echo her sentiment of "hoping that this is a first step to change things in Italy." Brescia certainly have the support behind them, as of Thursday morning their crowd of 2,700 for the home leg against Liverpool was the 4th highest in the Champions League this year so far - moving the game to the men's ground undoubtedly had its bonuses - and hopefully the fans can continue to get behind their players as they fight for more equal rights and opportunities.