Plan to get more ethnic minorities into England women's football team
The Football Association has announced a revamped player pathway designed to increase diversity in women’s and girls’ football amid criticism of the England squad being too white.
The FA’s plan to “unearth the very best talent” and “make the game more diverse, accessible and inclusive” comes after a three-year review, but also follows criticism last year that England won the European Championship with an all-white starting XI.
The FA were also condemned in 2021 when then interim England head coach Hege Riise initially named an all-white squad for a camp in February of that year.
All involved seem determined to ensure that situation is never repeated, with the FA bidding to make women’s football “more reflective of wider society” and ensure more black and ethnic minority players represent England and compete in the Women’s Super League.
There have previously been fears that top-level girls’ academies were too often based in leafy suburbs or rural locations, and were therefore hard to reach for youngsters from inner-city communities or lower-income households. The FA says its new structure will “see 95 per cent of players accessing an Emerging Talent Centre (ETC) within one hour of where they live by 2024”.
The FA’s women’s technical director Kay Cossington said: “We strive for our game to be more reflective of wider society and making our game more diverse, inclusive and accessible is the central ambition to the restructure of our pathway.
“These changes ensure more focused investment and will address some of the historic challenges many different age groups have faced when trying to access the game. With more opportunities and a better geographic spread, we are incredibly confident that this will inspire a new generation of Lionesses to flourish and evolve our game for the future.”
Anti-discrimination campaign group Kick It Out welcomed the changes and said it hopes that this news “will be transformational for many talented girls who have previously been unable to access progression opportunities”.
“We hope these initiatives improve the player pathways to bring in more diverse talent, which will ultimately address the lack of diversity in the Lionesses squad in the years to come,” said Hollie Varney, Kick It Out’s chief operating officer.
“We will look forward to working closely with the FA to ensure that the revamped talent programmes unveiled address the issues that can impact participation, such as the significant cost of attending academies and the inaccessibility of training grounds located in suburban areas.”
Over the past three years when reviewing the pathway, the FA consulted with players, parents, coaches and clubs as well as taking new data into account.
The re-designed structure sees up to 70 ETCs set up across England for potential future stars aged eight to 16. Since July, 56 ETCs have now launched, with a further 11 on the way, replacing the 28 older Regional Talent Centres. The FA’s goal is to have more than 4,200 young female players engaged in talent programmes across the country by the end of the 2023-24 season.
Exactly how successful the FA’s revamped talent pathway may take many years to fully establish, with young players currently aged eight to 16 potentially a decade away from the Lionesses’ senior side and WSL football.
However, at youth level changes should be evident very soon, and the FA’s new pathway will be expected to deliver genuine results in transforming the diversity of the talent pool.