The Women’s World Cup this summer is causing a major club vs country row.
The European Club Association (ECA), which includes clubs from England’s Women’s Super League, released a statement expressing their concern that players will only be given 10 days to rest before joining their national teams. The statement added that the ECA will work with FIFA to ensure that players are not called up before the mandatory release period, which starts on July 10.
“The ECA is concerned about the volume of alerts from our Member Clubs on the current widespread practice of National Associations (NAs) calling up players for international duty for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup outside of the mandatory release periods as established in the Fifa International Match Calendar (IMC).
“Following extensive consultation within ECA, European clubs will seek to strictly adhere to the mandatory release period and request that the rules governing the release of players to their national teams to be respected ahead of the tournament. Given that the tournament kicks off on 20 July, the mandatory release period for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup therefore commences on 10 July."
While these dates do not clash with European domestic league fixtures, clubs are concerned at the load being placed on their players after the World Cup and want them to get adequate rest beforehand.
After several high-profile injuries of late, a greater focus has been placed on player welfare. In the last 12 months, players like Vivianne Miedema, Alexia Putellas, Beth Mead, and the England captain, Leah Williamson have all suffered ACL injuries with Williamson set to miss the World Cup through injury. Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, who has been out of action since February, and Chelsea defender Millie Bright are also doubtful for the World Cup due to knee injuries, while England full-back Lucy Bronze also underwent knee surgery last week.
The buildup to this year’s World Cup could be severely disrupted after the ECA told national associations that players will not be available until 10 days before the tournament starts. Several countries have arranged friendlies before that date, including the Republic of Ireland, who have send-off friendlies scheduled against Zambia and France at Tallaght Stadium on 22 June and 6 July, respectively.
Arsenal’s Katie McCabe, Everton’s Courtney Brosnan, Liverpool’s Megan Campbell and Niamh Fahey, and Manchester United’s Aoife Mannion are among the English ECA member clubs. For Katie McCabe, the Women’s Super League campaign concludes on 27 May, while if Arsenal were to progress against Wolfsburg, the Champions League final is scheduled for 3 June.
The ECA said it was "concerned about the volume of alerts from our member clubs" on national sides calling up players for international duty outside the mandatory release windows. It added that European clubs will seek to strictly adhere to the mandatory release period and request that the rules governing the release of players to their national teams be respected ahead of the tournament. ECA head of women's football Claire Bloomfield has expressed her concern for player welfare, stating that “the issue of early call-ups is a hangover from the game in its amateur form and is detrimental to the future success and growth of women's football. They also generate a great deal of unnecessary tension in the relationship between clubs and their players."
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has also voiced her concerns about players’ rest, stating that “there needs to be more strict, stringent restrictions” on when players can be called up. She added that “players have had so little rest in the last three years. It's not enough.”
The postponement of the Women’s Euros to 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic has meant elite players are facing five consecutive summers of major international tournaments.