West Ham have been reported to the Football Association by the chairman of their own ladies’ team for an alleged breach of anti-discrimination rules.
Stephen Hunt says he has been forced to act after what he claims is a sustained period in which the Premier League club have ignored requests for financial help and other forms of assistance.
Hunt alleges says the West Ham board have “positively act[ed] to undermine the ladies’ team” to the extent that it now “essentially not viable”.
He cited an incident this season in which he says a West Ham Ladies player who sustained a knee injury was forced to wait five months for an operation on the NHS because the club refused to pay for treatment.
Hunt said: “I saw an advert 18 months ago asking if anyone wanted to be chairman of the West Ham ladies team and I took on the role.
“I spent last season trying to turn the club around but I soon realised the relationship with the club was very poor and it wasn’t clear who owned what.
“The club was constantly cutting back and forcing us to basically live below a subsistence level. I had to lend the club money just to survive and West Ham put in nothing.
“Our club is now essentially not viable. It can’t control its income because it is not allowed to sell advertising because it would clash with West Ham branding.
“I have now concluded having read the FA rules from cover to cover that being a member of the FA requires you to work to end discrimination on the basis of gender and to promote equality.
“There may be a dispute over how far a club can go but what they can’t do is positively act to undermine the ladies’ team.”
West Ham Ladies are currently members of FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division, and play their home matches in Thurrock.
The ladies’ section of the Hammers’ official website includes brief pen-pictures of five players, which Hunt says is out of date.
In a statement issued to the BBC, West Ham refuted Hunt’s claims and said they were working bringing control of the ladies’ team back “in-house”.
The statement read: “The club have been working for some time on plans to take West Ham United Ladies FC ‘in house’ and, in light of Mr Hunt’s most recent deeply concerning comments, we will now be seeking to do so at the earliest opportunity.
“We will, of course, seek to maintain the current West Ham United Ladies FC squad personnel where possible, and provide them with the best possible support and management moving forward.
“As a result of this, women’s football at West Ham United will become bigger, better and stronger, as we continue our commitment to the growth and development of the women’s game, both on and off the pitch.”