The A-League Women’s competition will expand from 10 teams to 12 over the course of the next two years with the number of rounds extended from 14 to 22 to bring the game in Australia on a par with the rest of the world.
Western United will enter the fray in the 2022-23 season, followed by the Central Coast Mariners a year later, subject to FA board approval. It means that by the start of the 2023-24 season, there will be a full home-and-away schedule consisting of 132 games.
The announcement comes ahead of next year’s Women’s World Cup, which will be played on Australian soil and in New Zealand, and at a time when the standard of the A-League Women has dipped. Many top players have left Australia in search for more playing time in Europe’s top leagues, and the quality on show in the domestic league has suffered as a result.
A-Leagues chief executive Danny Townsend said it was natural the nation’s best players such as Sam Kerr and Ellie Carpenter would want to pursue their careers in the Women’s Super League in England or France’s Division 1 Feminine, but he wanted the A-League Women to present a better option than Europe’s lower divisions.
“We’ve got to make sure that we make it clear that moving to a second-tier league in Europe is not a better proposition than staying in the A-League Women, which I think is a bit of a misconception that exists at the moment,” he said. “The number of matches is certainly going to be a positive reason for Australian players to stay.”
Townsend said the move will finally bring Australia into line with global benchmarks in terms of match minutes, and ensure “more opportunities for women to play at the highest level and for girls to benefit from the role models and expanded professional pathways this investment creates”.
“We are just 12 months out from the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup, and we want to make sure that every girl and woman in Australia has the opportunity to build and grow a lasting relationship with football, the country’s most participated in sport,” Townsend said.
The inclusion of Western United and the Mariners comes after Wellington Phoenix were added to the competition in 2021. The most recent additions were decided on following close consultation with the players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia, and will lead to the minimum salary in the competition increasing by more than 50% over the next two years.
“Today represents a significant step forward for women’s football in Australia that not only brings to life the players’ vision for a full home and away competition, but indicates the APL’s intent and belief in growing the women’s game,” Kate Gill, PFA chief executive, said.
“Thanks to the genuine partnership with the APL, the players have played a central role in helping to design a competition that delivers meaningful employment, a professional career path and a strong and sustainable league that will develop the next generation of Australian talent.”
Chief operating officer of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, Jane Fernandez, said the move followed the growth trajectory of women’s football globally, and that next year’s tournament presented a “once in a generation opportunity” for women’s football in Australia.
“The benefits and the opportunities are huge,” she said. “And it’s not just for the players, there are benefits also for those who want to volunteer, to coach and to be leaders in our game.”
The expanded A-League Women season is scheduled to begin on 18 November this year, with the grand final to be contested on the weekend of 29-30 April 2023.