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FIFA approves new women’s fixture calendar: what it means for players and competitions

FIFA has approved a new international competition calendar for women for 2026-2029. While the calendar is still not optimized for maximum player rest and recovery, it does show some compromises from FIFA in recognizing player workloads – most notably reducing the number of overall international windows from six to five.

However, FIFA is also adding to the women’s calendar with the confirmation of the Women’s Club World Cup – the opening tournament set to take place in January and February 2026 – and the CONCACAF W Champions Cup starting in August this year (Gotham FC, San Diego Wave and Portland Thorns FC will be featured in this edition). These events will significantly increase the elite player load, while these players are already in high demand between club and country.

Although there was compromise, one group felt particularly left out of the talks. The Women’s Leagues Forum, which includes representatives from 16 national women’s leagues, expressed its dissatisfaction in a letter to FIFA before the calendar’s publication, requesting input into the calendar due to its impact on global competition schedules.

What are the most important changes in the international competition calendar?

There are three major logistical lessons from the new calendar approach. FIFA scrapped an international window in September, streamlining its approach to the types of international windows to apply to each confederation at the same time, and ensuring there were at least ten weeks between a major global tournament and the subsequent international window.

  • Type I periods last nine days, during which “a maximum of two matches may be played by national teams.”
  • Type II periods last twelve days, during which “a maximum of three matches may be played by national teams.”

Among the changes in the number and types of windows, the number of days national teams can spend with their federations has been slightly reduced from 60 to 54 days. However, FIFA has also chosen to favor more Type II periods, which are longer, in the hope that this will allow national teams to play more weekend matches.

New international window displays for women

Months)

Type

Amount of days

Max.no. of competitions

February March

II

12

3

April

II

12

3

May June

I

9

2

Oct

I

9

2

November-December

II

12

3

Totals

54

13

The current scheme favors the shorter Type I windows over the longer Type II. In 2024, there are six international windows, plus a few specific ones that mention exemptions or specific dates that only apply to the Asian Football Confederation. In the new system that will come into effect in 2026, each confederation will have the same window type on the same days. It doesn’t fully address players’ demands for more rest and recovery, but the longer windows should at least make things a little easier when traveling for longer periods of time.

The longer lead time of tournaments to the next window will have the most immediate impact on the more active national teams; For example, the USWNT, who tend to plan something in every window, had six weeks between elimination from the 2023 World Cup and returning to camp for their first post-tournament friendlies. In 2021, they had just over five weeks between the end of the Olympics and their next camp.

What does this mean for players?

Rest and recovery were the biggest priority for the players. Earlier this week, FIFPRO, the global players’ union, posted a first-person story from England and Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze, who said she was strangely relieved by the COVID pandemic because it meant she would have time to to rest.

“We are asking for proper rest periods and proper planning to end collisions,” Bronze said. “If the football calendar were organized in such a way that such confrontations did not take place, it would take a burden off the players’ minds so that we can concentrate on our game.”

According to sources briefed on the changes, FIFPRO requested mandatory rest periods during both the off-season (28 days) and in-season (14 days) for players as part of ongoing discussions with FIFA over the calendar. However, no mandatory rest periods made it into the final product, as FIFA rejected the request and left it to national teams and clubs to manage player taxes.

Thanks to the time difference between the US and Thailand – the location of the FIFA council meetings and the FIFA Congress that starts on Friday – the response has been muted so far. Most stakeholders, not belonging to the confederations themselves, expected most of the changes to the calendar in some form, if not the exact details. Based on conversations The Athletics has been talking about the upcoming changes to FIFA’s fixture list for the past two months, Wednesday’s result is less radical than previous drafts. There will certainly be complaints, but the 2026-2029 calendar is unlikely to provoke an extreme reaction, thanks to FIFA’s understanding that it must spread the wealth of frustration when it comes to a final product.

What is the Women’s Leagues Forum?

On Tuesday, the Women’s Leagues Forum – a collection of 16 women’s leagues and organizations co-chaired by NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman – preemptively sent a letter to FIFA about the upcoming international competition calendar. The letter, obtained by The Athleticsstates that the new organization twice requested a meeting with FIFA, but FIFA never organized one.

The WLF seems largely concerned about the shift towards preference for type II windows. For FIFA it is a victory because it means more international matches during favorable weekend times. For the leagues, that’s a clear problem that’s hurting their bottom line.

“This recommendation would create a series of damaging problems for domestic leagues including, to name just a few, fewer weekends to play matches, more matches played mid-week, limited stadium availability, dissatisfaction from broadcast partners and federation/ confederation and tournaments/champions. -competition conflicts,” the letter reads. “In addition, the health of elite/top players is put at risk by this calendar given the large number of matches they will have to play, especially in light of increasing player injuries.”

Despite the organization’s request that “FIFA does not make any hasty decisions at the upcoming council meeting,” that is exactly what happened. In terms of timing, the coalition of women’s professional leagues may simply have joined too late to influence FIFA’s process, whether directly with FIFA or through their respective confederations.

Is there an ideal international competition calendar?

Considering the large number of stakeholders, planning is always a herculean task. FIFA relies heavily on the regional confederations for input into the calendar, with the individual country federations next in line. Domestic leagues do not have a voice at the table, meaning they can become frustrated with a calendar that may not suit their own needs. But the competitions also have different requirements, making it impossible to please everyone equally.

The most ideal approach to an international calendar would be a player-centric model. For example, the mandatory rest periods recommended by FIFPRO are considered first for the calendar, followed by dates around those rest periods. It is highly unlikely that FIFA will try to please the players first, and will instead maintain a top-down approach to prioritizing other stakeholders. FIFA not only wants to keep the confederations happy, but also takes into account windows that appeal to potential broadcast partners.

“The Women’s International Match Calendar and the subsequent changes to our regulations represent a significant milestone in our commitment to take women’s football to the next level by increasing competitiveness around the world, especially in those regions where women’s football is less developed and protects the source. -be of the players. Agreeing the calendar well in advance will be beneficial for planning,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said during the FIFA council meeting. “We would like to thank all confederations and other stakeholders for their efforts and commitment to our common goal.”

On the women’s side, conditions vary so much between leagues and federations that some players might want more opportunities to get into national team camps and access those resources, while others would be overburdened.

“The schedule is mainly talked about with too many games because there is a large group of players who might also be in the spotlight a bit more, but then there are the players on the other side who could go months without games and then it becomes expect you to play at a high level,” Bronze said. “There is a huge difference between the under-utilized players and the players who are likely to be heavily used.”


Berman leads the Women’s League Forum, a group of 16 professional women’s leagues around the world. (Photo by Tim Heitman, Getty Images)

What does this mean for the NWSL?

The NWSL will face many of the same challenges it has always faced on the international calendar, especially when faced with major summer tournaments. Looking especially ahead to 2027, where FIFA has doubled a Type I international window immediately ahead of the mandatory release date for the 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup, NWSL clubs will be without tournament-bound international players for the entire month of June.

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“We think about it through the lens of how do we make sure we’re actually making decisions from a player welfare perspective,” Berman shared. The Athletics in March. “The players are being put under pressure.”

Dropping the September period is beneficial for the competition and provides more time between the end of a summer tournament and the next series of international matches. However, that pressure on the player will remain for now, and it will be up to the NWSL to adapt and overcome until 2029.

(Top photo: Apinya Rittipo/FIFA via Getty Images)