The Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage through the United States and England. Cases continue to rise, with the United States consistently breaking records for daily infection counts, whereas England has started a second lockdown period for the month of November.
Thankfully, for us as fans but not really anyone else involved, the Premier League is exempt from the current lockdown rules in England, and matches will be allowed to continue behind closed doors as they have been.
The distinction of sports that have been able to remain ongoing has been important. The FA has announced that “elite” level athletes have been able to continue - “an individual who derives a living from competing in a sport, a senior representative nominated by a relevant sporting body, a member of the senior training squad for a relevant sporting body, or [a person] aged 16 or above and on an elite development pathway” according to the English Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.
Nearly all levels of male football are allowed to go on, unsurprisingly. Boys are able to continue training with nary a hiccup.
That definition, unfortunately, does not include women in the FA WSL Academy Program and the FA Girls Regional Training Clubs.
Coming from an association that banned women’s football for fifty years, this development is also unsurprising.
Why are boys allowed to keep playing football, allowed to keep training within their academies, and girls are not? Why did the FA ensure that the Women’s Super League and Championship League clubs are able to keep playing, but are unable to access the help from their Academy programs that they may need?
Even for WSL clubs, that have had more money provided to them to build their squads, there is only so much depth that they are able to access. Liverpool FC Women itself are working with a threadbare squad, with practically only one player per position.
These are not billion dollar clubs similar to the Men’s rosters, with 2 or three players per position, oftentimes such a surplus in positions that players get loaned out to get some experience. Now, girls that are looking to play football professionally, that are training in the same way, see the door shut on them.
There is virtually no difference between boys and girls that are in football academy systems through the ages 9-16.
Except boys wanting to play football are taken seriously, given the chance to continue their training throughout a deadly pandemic. Girls playing football are still treated as if they have a cute hobby, not working for the opportunity to be a professional athlete.
This isn’t just detrimental to girls that actually play football, to women that play for these clubs, but to girls around the country that have aspirations to play. It’s a blow to the culture as a whole, to even so called “elite” clubs and players. This is a resounding message to the football world as a whole that no matter how well they perform or how popular female players become, they are still seen as lesser to the male players, to the boys that are allowed to pursue dreams of becoming the professionals that girls are only patronized with.
For all the talk of the problems within Liverpool’s own culture and how they treat their own women’s club, all the pieces that I’ve written criticizing them, they are a smaller part of the whole problem. They have taken advantage of that culture, and how the system treats female players.
Treats girls that are looking to those big clubs, looking to Liverpool, to make their dreams come true.
Dreams that will only remain dreams while they are patronized, told they can achieve those dreams and then have their chances taken from them.
There is also the argument, too, that no one should be training — elite players or not. This whole pandemic has made everything more difficult, and of course that includes the choices that put these systems into stark relief. Choices whether or not to allow academy players, boy or girl, to train at all. That allow male or female clubs to finish out their seasons, their tournaments - just as the WSL was canceled while the Premier League was able to restart.
In truth, the safest thing for everyone would be to pause the sports again. Put football on pause while the current lockdown plays out, regardless of elite status. There is also the fact that bigger clubs, the male squads and staff, have the resources to protect their players. They have larger stadiums that allow for greater social distance, they have less to lose by playing behind closed doors. They have lucrative television deals that pay them well to show their matches, so it is in their benefit to continue to play — more so than for the fans’ benefit.
Women’s clubs have very little, if any, of those resources.
Equality, though, is about making sure that the men’s and women’s games have the resources, the same opportunities, the same protections. That girls have the same opportunities, resources, and protections, that the boys do. And just like here in the United States, Covid-19 has made those inequalities all the more present.