Youth football was on Thursday embroiled in a row over equality during lockdown, after girls at elite regional talent clubs and academies were forced to stop playing football for the four-week period while their male equivalents were not yet told to suspend play.
Boys training at EFL and Premier League clubs’ youth talent pathways were as of Thursday still able to train, while girls at Women’s Super League and Championship teams were told to shut down all activity by the Football Association on Tuesday.
The Telegraph Sport understands that the EFL and Premier League remain in talks with the government over whether to suspend boys’ training, but some clubs had continued as normal with their boys’ sessions on Thursday, the first day of national lockdown.
The government guidance on what constitutes an elite athlete, and therefore exempt from lockdown, includes any person “aged 16 or above and on an elite development pathway”. The FA’s complete shutdown of girls’ activity at all age groups appears to contradict that however.
The decision has caused confusion for those involved at clubs, including Andy Elleray who trains girls and boys at Birmingham City. On Tuesday he got the news that girls’ training would be suspended but on Thursday morning Elleray was told that boys’ training at his club was as of yet still allowed to continue.
“From the outside it doesn’t look great,” Elleray said. “Being involved in both environments it’s weird that half of my job is off and half of it is on. I can’t be with the girls but can train with the boys – it’s a bit strange.
“In our system at Birmingham girls on the over-16s play and train as much as the boys, are on the England pathways, training in the first team, so they’re elite athletes by the definition. The only difference is that from 16 the boys get paid scholarship wages up until they become professional, whereas the girls don’t. In under-16 there’s no difference really, except sometimes in training venues. I think it’s the mixed messages and lack of clarity. Hopefully stances might be changed, the girls are just really frustrated – they want to play.”
The FA were approached for comment by the Telegraph Sport but have yet to offer a response.
This week the Telegraph launched the Keep Kids Active campaign, which over 100 prominent sports personalities, politicians and teams including West Ham have backed. It is calling for the government to rethink current policy and allow children to participate in organised sport over the next four weeks.
Lottie Marlow, who trains in Birmingham’s under-10s squad, is one of the players affected by the government’s policy after the FA suspended her training. Her mother Sarah is worried the lockdown will halt her progress: “She’s used to going to a proper facility, with floodlights and coaches, and this is halting her opportunity to progress. These girls want to be footballers, they are some of the best in the country and I know people say it’s just four weeks, but it may not be. It could be 10 or 14, and that margin of time makes a huge difference.”
Emma Bisset’s daughter joined Aston Villa’s under-12s this season, after completing her trial over video during the first national lockdown. Both girls and boys at the club train at the same facility, so the different rules was difficult for her and her daughter to understand: ”You want parity. One of the things we really liked about Villa is that when you go to the training facility the boys and girls are together, you get a sense the whole club is operating as a real one club. That for me is where the discrepancy in this decision is.”