England striker Kelly Smith is looking for a new club, after the news earlier th
England striker Kelly Smith is looking for a new club, after the news earlier this week that the American women's professional soccer league, WUSA, has closed. The decision was made by the WUSA board just a few days before the FIFA Women's World Cup is due to kick-off in the USA this Saturday.
Smith has been one of the stars of the world's first women's professional league, despite suffering ankle and knee injuries which has limited her to just 26 games over the past three seasons (scoring nine goals and having seven assists) for Philadelphia Charge.
WUSA kicked-off in April 2001 following the success of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, which USA won in front of 90,000 fans at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. That tournament had helped to establish Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy as household names and the league started with a bang.
But over the past two seasons, attendances have dropped, TV audiences have been low and ultimately sponsorship has not reached high expectations, which led to the decision by the Board of Governors to close down.
"A shortfall in sponsorship revenue and insufficient revenue from other core areas of the business proved to be the hurdles which the WUSA could not overcome in time for planning the 2004 season," said John Hendricks, Chairman of the WUSA Board of Governors.
Julie Foudy, who is currently training with the USA team in preparation for their opening World Cup game against Sweden in Washington DC on Sunday, is hoping that another professional league may launch in 2005.
"The Women's World Cup will provide a platform to generate additional interest in women's soccer that could be the catalyst to more sponsor support to revive the WUSA," Foudy added.
"The positive impact our sport has had on youth players, both boys and girls, and their perception of women and athletics, has been inspiring to experience first hand. It is empowering for kids to have role models like the players of the WUSA."
England National Coach Hope Powell commented: "It's obviously disappointing to hear that WUSA has made the decision to close its operations, but I think there will still be an opportunity in the future for women to play football professionally.
"Having been to some of the games and experienced the crowds and atmosphere, it is a surprising move. However, should the World Cup capture the public's imagination again, then who knows what they will be able to achieve?"
Powell will be able to see the achievements of the Fourth FIFA Women's World Cup at first hand, as she will be working for FIFA as part of their Technical Team at the tournament providing detailed technical match analysis.
Powell added: "We are in a very different situation in Europe, where we have a football culture but have to contend with comparisons to the hugely popular men's game. We attract thousands of fans to England internationals and FA Women's Cup Finals, but we have to attract those people every week to our league games to make it work.
"I think the media has a very important role to play in dedicating deserved column inches to women's sport to encourage participation and role models. Those fans that come to watch our England women's games love the experience and always want to come again, but we rarely have the opportunity to speak to a wide audience.
"Hopefully with hosting the 2005 European Women's Championships we will be able to promote the game to potential players, fans and sponsors, and having that platform will give us a better idea of whether the women's game could ever go professional in England."
The Football Association has looked into the viability of a professional women's football league in England, but the game is still in a development stage and cannot sustain professionalism at the moment.
FA spokesperson Bev Ward added: "Sustainability is a key consideration for any sport - especially in light of the current economic climate. There are several challenges that the women's game in this country faces before it is ready for professionalism, such as improving facilities and attendance through to the pool of talented players and coaches.
"The FA's research concluded that a phased approach to professionalism would be the best model."
Six teams in the women's top flight - The FA Nationwide Women's Premier League - are now financially recognising their players' efforts. The FA has also increased prize funds for women's competitions this season to give added investment into clubs.