WOMEN'S FOOTBALL ACADEMIES FORCED TO CLOSE DUE TO SECOND LOCKDOWN

As a 28 day lockdown was announced in the UK, the grassroots footballing community was on tenterhooks to hear about their fate for the month of November. Seasons had restarted in September, boots were muddied and sidelines populated with the fans who dedicate their weekends to being a part of the beautiful game.


Yet during the Prime Minister's speech, when it came to sports - the word ‘elite’ was bandied around and at that interlude, a lot of grassroots clubs accepted that the next month was going to be another month waiting on the sidelines.


As ‘elite’ sportspeople began their November training sessions, the Telegraph's Fiona Thomas and Molly McElwee highlighted that there was a distinct absence in women's elite teams, and specifically, within their younger team’s academies. This article shone directly onto the issue of inequality in the game, from grassroots up, in the way women’s football is still lagging behind in its representation and infrastructure.


CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES


The FA has made a very obvious push towards being more inclusive, with an upheaval in their previously neglected women’s strategy and the introduction of working papers on the experience of women in football, both on and off the pitch-  as well as increasing investment into the women’s game. And undeniably, big brands have led the way too, when Barclays became the first ever WSL sponsor in 2019, they stepped up as a global corporate power, committing to a multimillion pound partnership with women’s football in the UK.


In 2020 Georgia Stanway became a FIFA 2021 ambassador, giving video-game players visibility of young women in the game, which hadn’t been the case before. Media outlets have platformed role models like Alex Scott at the helm of footballing punditry. More women are now associated with the game than have ever been before.


CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES


However, for the many visible trailblazers the FA provides us with, the inconsistency in FA policy between men and women’s sport is the glaring issue at hand. Short, sharp visibility type exercises do not cover up the fundamental infrastructure issue in football, in this case, mens ‘elite’ academies from aged 15 and over had the ‘nod’ to continue training over the government’s lockdown period- whereas WSL academies, according to the FA do not meet the required ‘elite protocols’ and hence, were  instructed to stay at home.


Casey Stoney, Manchester United’s manager has stated that she has already moved academy players into the women's first team, to allow their continued development, essentially finding a way to allow some of her biggest talents to continue training over an undeniably fundamental period of the footballing season. 


CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES


How this inconsistency feeds down to a grassroots level is very important for the way young girls feel about the game and the role carved out for them by the FA. Seeing male counterparts at elite clubs, continuing their training throughout lockdown signals to them that the investment in womens/girls football falls short, as it has done so historically.


With exercise more or less curtailed outside the realm of elite sport, and the nights drawing in - the government and FA have taken away one of the most powerful tools for interpersonal skills and confidence that young girls, and many young boys have at a grassroots level - football and the many merits it brings both on and off the pitch.


Written by Charlotte:


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