The new national lockdown has revealed the inequality that still exists between the provision of girls’ and boys’ football at the highest level. As girls at club academies from Brighton to Manchester United were being told to hang up their boots for four weeks, boys were being reassured that it was business as usual.
From Thursday, women’s elite development squads (age 16-21) were forbidden from attending training or playing matches by the Football Association because they do not fall under the government’s elite protocols. Girls at Regional Talent Clubs (RTCs) (under 9s to under 16s) were also told everything was on hold for a month.
The FA released a statement late on Friday afternoon which confirmed: “The Barclays FA WSL Academies and FA Girls Regional Talent Clubs are to be suspended during this period as their resources – including finances and personnel – do not meet the necessary ‘elite’ protocols required.”
Meanwhile boys’ academy level football at 15 plus will continue, with some exemptions for boys’ RTCs as well.
Sally Horrox, a women’s football expert who previously worked at the FA to develop, launch and run the Women’s Super League, and is now managing partner of Y Sport, said: “Women’s football has come a long way in the past decade but this decision illustrates just how much more work and investment is needed at all levels to ensure elite boys and girls are treated the same.
“There is an increasing number of brilliant young girls in the academy pathways but the clubs simply do not have the staff, the infrastructure, or the resources to meet the ‘professional’ protocols to allow them to continue to train.”
Paul Spencer, whose daughter, now 14, has been training at a north-west RTC for four years expressed his anger: “It’s the worst bit of discrimination I’ve seen. Football is my daughter’s life, it is for all the girls at the RTC. By pushing the girls to one side, what does that tell them? They’re asking themselves, hang on a minute, the boys can play, why can’t we?
“For whoever it was to decide the girls’ football wasn’t good enough to carry on is a disgrace. We know there is not as much money in girls’ football but equal rights mean equal rights, not my daughter crying her eyes out as boys carry on and they can’t. My daughter asked: ‘Is there any good in carrying on?’ She’s been playing for 10 years and in those 10 years I’ve never once heard her say that.”