My Lords, women's football is the fastest-growing female participation sport with, it is believed, more than 1.3 million women and girls playing some sort of football in the United Kingdom. We fully support the current reviews of the game by the Football Association and the women's football task force. This is an excellent opportunity to capitalise on the performance of the England women's team in China and it is important that the reviews lead to a significant improvement in women's football, including ways of raising the profile and competitiveness of the domestic league.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. Players in the successful women's team that reached the quarter finals of the World Cup in China this year apparently received just £40 per day for the five weeks' unpaid leave that most of them had to take to represent their country. Does he agree that the priorities in the game are distorted, when the Football Association spends less on women's football each year than the annual salary that a Premier League club pays to a single top male player? Will he tell the FA, the Premier League and the Football League to do more to ensure that the fast-growing women's game is properly financed at all levels, including providing financial support for the England women's team that is at least on a par with that received by other top national women's teams?
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend's long-standing expertise and passion for football and to his knowledge of grass-roots football. The Government share many of his concerns. We appreciate and thank the Football Association for its ongoing commitment to the game but, frankly, we want a lot more and we want it a lot faster. We agree particularly with my noble friend about the financial rewards, on which he made comparisons. The England players are realistic about the current status and financial position of the game and have not called for payments equal to those of their male colleagues; perhaps it is to be hoped that one day they will. Instead, their arguments have focused on the wider impact that the level of remuneration has on the game. The majority of players in the England women's team took unpaid leave to take part in the World Cup, which meant that they lost wages and had to recoup their working hours. That severely limits the hours that they can train for club or country. The Government do not think that that is satisfactory.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, the Football Association is carrying out a number of investigations into women's football. I say again that the Football Association, in the way in which it is reforming itself as a consequence of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is putting much more emphasis on women's football. We certainly want to encourage that, but there is no doubt at all that there is a huge way to go. The noble Baroness will know that a task force has been set up involving a range of members, including Sport England. We consider the task force to be very important in improving the women's game.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport did not think that it should provide Olympic funding for football because there is so much money in the game? According to information that I have received, it believes that the Football Association should provide it. Given that, will the Government make every effort to ensure that the FA and the premiership dig into their pockets and at least provide a professional national team, which would provide the role models that are seen to be so important?
My Lords, it is extremely sad that there will not be an England or Great Britain team at the 2008 Olympics. The home nations could not even offer an explanation of why they would not allow the women's team to compete on behalf of Great Britain, and an explanation is important to us because we want to make sure that we understand the reasons. We understand that FIFA made assurances about the independence of the home nations in the wider football world, so the Government take the view that the home nations' decision is appalling.
My Lords, has my noble friend visited the wonderful National Football Museum at Preston, which tells so well the story of women's football in this country, including the women's FA cup final in Preston in the 1920s, which attracted a crowd of 51,000? Will he note that the lack of women in football, especially at management level and in administration, could be remedied and that that would encourage women to participate? Will he consult the football unit of the economics department at Warwick University, which is concerned with that issue?
My Lords, I am afraid that I have not been able to go to Preston to see the museum, but I will. My noble friend will know that there were 24,000 people at the women's cup final last year. The reward for that final was £5,000, whereas, for the men's clubs, to be in the third round proper is worth £24,000, so we can begin to see where the problems are.