LESS than 24 hours after Swansea City Ladies completed a league and cup double last Sunday, the Football Association of Wales made an announcement that rocked the women’s game.

After a review of the domestic pyramid in 2020, clubs were told a restructure was required that would result in major changes for the top two tiers.

Following an open application process that saw 37 clubs bid for 24 places in the new-look system, the winners and losers were revealed.

Abergavenny Women, Cascade YC Ladies and Briton Ferry Llansawel Ladies lost their places in the Welsh Premier Women’s League, which is down from nine teams to eight for 2021/22.

The New Saints and Barry Town United Ladies have been included in the top flight, while the demoted trio will be in a regional second tier league.

The knock-on effects mean the likes of Blackwood-based Coed Duon Women have dropped to the third tier.

Part of the restructure also sees the formation of a new regional under-19 league which the FAW hopes will help players bridge the gap between youth and senior football.

Scanning social media over the past week, the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, with those detractors having some choice words for those in power at the FAW.

The National spoke to head of women’s football Lowri Roberts, who responded to concerns.

Q. There has been so much negativity towards the changes. What have you made of it?

A. “Clubs were talking about it before the announcement, so we were aware of the strength of feeling towards it. I’ll be honest, I’ve deleted the Twitter app from my phone because it was getting quite personal and having a big impact on me.

“We have been keeping an eye on the media and a lot of MPs have shown a real interest in the topic. It’s great there are so many people now being made aware of the women’s game, and I hope they will take a more active interest in it moving forward and support these clubs.”

Q. Has the reaction made you feel it wasn’t the right thing to do?

A. “The decision has been made. We’re not reverting back or changing any decisions – the decision is final. What I hope we’ll be able to demonstrate over the coming months is the unbelievable work many of the clubs have put into their development plans, and the significant commitment and income they are able to bring in going forward.

“We truly believe we’ll take our national league to the next level, in terms of professional staff, facilities and long-term partnership agreements that will create a far more elite environment for our players.

“It’s important to note that our amateur status Welsh international senior and youth players will quite often choose to play at Tier 3 in England rather than Tier 1 in Wales because the provision just isn’t there for them. That’s something we can’t ignore anymore.

“We have to be able to compete with Tier 3 in England. The WSL and Championship in England are professional and semi-professional and we’re a long way off that. It’s unlikely we’ll get to a professional level.

“For us, of course we want our national team players playing at the very highest level they can compete at. One thing we could have done far better was communicating with the players and ensuring they were fully aware of this completely new restructure and that selection wasn’t based solely on sporting merit. That is something we have to learn from and we really sympathise with these players who have played in the league for a longtime and are disappointed their club hasn’t been given a place in the new tier one league.”

Q. Clubs feel that what they have achieved on the pitch has been overlooked. What do you say to them?

A. “From the beginning, we’ve been transparent with the clubs in terms of how much weighting was given to sporting merit. The clubs never challenged that when we were taking them through what they were being assessed on – not one club questioned the process.

“This is our new starting point and we want this league to be far greater than what it has been in previous years. That’s why we’re looking at potential and the future and not looking back.

“It’s really important to note our champion club has never progressed past the first round of the Champions League, and that’s something we want to address. As of 2021/22, the further a champion club gets, the more money comes back into that league.”

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Q. A lot of people feel clubs with better finances have been favoured over those who have worked hard on the pitch to get where they are. Do you agree?

A. “Everybody keeps mentioning the money, but it’s not just about cash, we’re talking about the whole infrastructure. That means support staff, access to a multi-disciplinary team that are full-time, access to facilities and long-term partnership agreements. These are all things we’ve been looking at to strengthen our league. This isn’t a process we’ve thought about overnight, it’s something we have developed in the last year to 18 months.

“We’ve been in constant dialogue with FIFA, and their lawyers in particular, checking and challenging and asking how this process works, how does it compare to what others have done across Europe, and we spent quite a bit of time with the English FA looking at how they’ve done similar things. We’ve spent an awfully long time thinking about it because it’s such a big change.”

Q. Is there promotion and relegation next season?

A. “There is promotion and relegation next season. It could only be one season in Tier 2 for a club like Abergavenny. If they win that division and meet the licence criteria then they will be going back up.

“The licence criteria in the women’s game in Wales is very new. We’ve only been running it for a year. We’re looking to build on what that criteria is each year to improve the standard and professionalise the game. We will be adding to that criteria gradually and working with Uefa around what the criteria is to get into Europe.

“What we’re doing for the first time next season is integrating Tier 1 and Tier 2 into a new cup competition.”

Q. It would appear people’s confidence in the FAW has taken a big hit – what can you say to reassure them?

A. “There’s an opportunity for us to regroup, reach out to the clubs with support and start to move forward together. We’re not saying we no longer believe in these clubs, we’re here to support them.

“We have recruited a Tier 2 league and club development manager in Grace Williams from Watford, who have just gained a position in the women’s Championship in England. She oversaw that entire project, getting the club to a place where they were ready to make that step up. She is going to be a huge asset to the clubs in Tier 2.”

Q. Abergavenny have claimed the process wasn’t transparent and are asking why the FAW hasn’t published each club’s scores. How do you respond to that?

A. “We made it quite clear that scores would be for internal use only but we would provide feedback on their strengths and weaknesses.

“If they feel we haven’t given them enough feedback for them to go away and develop and put into place improvements then we are here to support them and give far more detail. We said from the off we wouldn’t be sharing the scores.

Q. In your eyes, was the process a fair one?

A. “We’re really happy with how we followed our process, we did it exactly how we said we would.”