Last week, the Football Association announced that all non-elite football will be suspended in England under new national coronavirus restrictions.
Under this suspension fell steps 3-7 of the women’s football pyramid and steps 3-6 of the men’s football pyramid. However, left out of this list were boys’ academies, whilst WSL academies and regional talent clubs were to shut.
Reaction to the Ruling
The FA claimed the resources of WSL academies and regional talent clubs didn’t “meet the necessary ‘elite’ protocols”. Ironically, their ruling directly contradicted UK government guidance on the matter. The government defines an elite athlete as any person “aged 16 or above and on an elite development pathway”.
The decision caused anger and confusion alike for those involved in the UK’s women’s football scene. Former England international Alex Scott tweeted that we must “stop inequality like this in our amazing game”.
Similarly, Manchester United Women manager Casey Stoney said the labelling of girls’ football academies as ‘non-elite’ has got to change.
Casey Stoney said: “They’re training to become professional players, just like the boys are. Unfortunately it’s not seen that way in terms of governance”.
“Legally we can’t contract a player until they’re 18 in the women’s game, but then they have to be classed as grassroots until they’re on a contract, so that in itself is a conflict. I personally can’t understand it”.
Stoney further revealed she had transferred two of her academy players to the first team so they could continue training under the new rules.
Super League outfit Bristol City felt the impacts of the FA’s ruling all too well. It became painfully evident, during their match against title-hopeful’s Manchester City at the weekend.
The Robins requested a postponement of the fixture after five of their first-team players couldn’t play in the squad due to their contact with a player showing coronavirus symptoms.Embed from Getty Images
Despite four of the isolating players being part of the squad for their previous fixture against Crystal Palace in the Continental Cup just 48 hours prior, the FA rejected the club’s request. As a consequence, Bristol City had to play a number of academy players who had not been training because of the FA’s decision.
Bristol City manager Tanya Oxtoby made her thoughts on the decision clear during a pre-match press conference.
“I’m really disappointed for the staff and for the players. Our job is to try and keep them safe. I feel like we’ve been put in a really awkward position today”.
The Future of Girls’ Football in England
The FA have since told girls academies that they can reopen during lockdown if they can meet elite protocols. However, they admitted that they doubt many will have the necessary resources to do so.
Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of the women’s professional game, believes that realistically “only one to two clubs” would be in a position to meet the criteria.
Ultimately, the issue boils down to the sad reality of money. Boys’ academies are ran by the Premier League, so they can afford the resources to meet requirements and continue playing. On the flip side, girls’ academies have nowhere near the resources to fulfil FA protocols.
Once again, girls have to watch from the sidelines, despite the vast progress that has been made in recent years. Evidently, there is still a way to go.