The National Women’s Soccer League announced on Wednesday a plan for a month-long tournament to serve in place of the regular season. The 2020 launch was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and in its place, the league will host the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah.
The NWSL tournament will kick off June 27th at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. All nine clubs will participate, with each playing four games in the preliminary rounds to determine seeding. The top eight teams will advance out of that round to set up the quarterfinals. The tournament will turn into a knockout competition, with the semifinals and finals played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The championship game is scheduled for July 26th.
All of the games in the tournament will be streamed on CBS All Access and will re-air on CBS Sports Network. The tournament opener and championship game will air on CBS as well. Fans will not be in attendance due to health and safety protocols.
The league worked in partnership with the NWSL Players Association to create the tournament. The union released a statement in which it pointed to contract guarantees for all contracted players, insurance covered for the 2020 calendar year, accommodations for players with children, and union input on tournament procedures and structures.
The two sides worked out a host of health and safety protocols covering preseason training, player and staff testing, positive test results, and standards for cleaning, disinfection and sanitation. Small group training will run from May 25th to May 29th, and full team training will begin on May 30th once five days of small group training has been completed. Travel plans have players arriving on June 24th to allow for a maximum time of 48 hours for receipt of test results.
Covid-19 testing protocols are the most important part of this process. The testing protocol has preseason testing, and then testing upon arrival in Utah before the tournament starts. From there, PCR antigen tests are scheduled for 24-48 hours before every game.
If a player tests positive, the protocol is as follows:
Facilities should close immediately if a player or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 to allow for appropriate contact tracing of all players and staff who have been present for team activities within 48 hours of when the individual tested positive. Once in Utah this includes the entire team. If no games have commenced and proper cleaning of shared facilities (i.e. weight room) have been conducted, then other teams can continue routine surveillance. If games have commenced, then the opposing team also needs to conduct appropriate contact tracing of all players and staff if the game occurred within 48 hours of a positive test.
Some USWNT players had expressed concern about the tournament, according to the Washington Post. Steven Goff reported, “most women’s national team players haven’t decided whether to attend and are considering the plan given the serious challenges and health risks that are associated.”
The union support for the tournament is important, but it remains to be seen what the most high profile members of that union will have to say about all this. Given the formal press release from the NWSL and NWSLPA, we will probably hear from national team players in the coming days.