Brighton & Hove Albion’s girls’ academy have been granted permission to return to action after the Football Association reversed their decision to halt all girls’ activity during the national lockdown.
Along with Aston Villa, who reopened their girls’ academy and regional talent centre on Monday, Brighton received confirmation on Thursday that they could resume training under the elite sport exemption.
It follows the FA last week inviting Women’s Super League clubs to submit risk assessments and plans to reopen their girls academies, by mirroring protocols that allowed the boys’ centres to continue under approval by the Premier League and EFL at the beginning of lockdown.
At the time, the FA’s director of women’s football Baroness Campbell told Telegraph Sport she doubted many clubs could meet the provisions, due to a lack of resources. But both Villa and Brighton have proven that their academies and RTCs for girls under-16 have been able to match health and safety standards installed at their boys’ equivalents.
“We have worked hard to provide equal training conditions for both the boys and girls academies," women’s general manager Polly Bancroft said. “We hope the conditions we provide for female players at the club will help us prevent any further disruptions due to the pandemic. We’re hopeful that other clubs can also return to training and will be seeking opportunities for our teams to play fixtures."
As first reported by Telegraph Sport earlier this month, the FA initially had deemed girls academies as falling outside the "elite" exemption outlined by the government, forcing their closure until at least December 2. This prompted major backlash however, from players, parents and a host of prominent figures including Manchester United manager Casey Stoney and former England player-turned-pundit Alex Scott, who questioned the fairness of halting girls’ development while boys could continue playing.
Telegraph Sport understands that clubs have until Friday to submit their plans for consideration to the FA.
Meanwhile, the Women’s FA Cup rescheduled dates have been announced, after the competition was put on hold for the duration of the national lockdown this month.
The first two rounds of this season’s competition had been due to be played on November 15 and 29 respectively, but because all teams partaking in the fixtures are from Tier 3 and below, they did not qualify for the elite sport exemption. Though an exception was made for the men’s FA Cup first round ties, which involved 10 teams who fall outside the "elite" sport government definition, a similar arrangement was not made as there remained ample time to rearrange the women’s rounds without disrupting the latter stages of the tournament.
The first two rounds will now take place on December 13 and January 3, and the third round has been postponed to January 17. The remaining schedule remains unchanged, including the fourth round, which sees WSL and Championship clubs introduced on January 31.