Boys and girls in England will be able to play football in the same teams up to under-18s level next season, after the Football Association raised the age limit this week.
The increase in the age limit for mixed football from under-16s to under-18s is the fifth change in as many seasons and is designed to give more girls the opportunity to play the game and a choice over who they play for.
The resolution was approved by FA shareholders at the FA's AGM this week, after the FA board, FA executive and FA council all agreed to the proposal.
The new regulations will come into effect for the beginning of next season (2015-16) and will enable the FA to conduct further research into mixed football at this older age group.
“The important message to get across about mixed football is that we’re not raising the age group to make girls play with boys. We’re doing it to give girls the choice to play with boys if they want to,” Rachel Pavlou, the FA's national development manager for women’s football told Club Website.
“We’re saying that if a girl wants the opportunity to play with her friends who are boys, or they live in a rural area and there isn’t the opportunity to play on a girls’ team, or they feel they’ll get a better game for themselves, playing on a boys’ team, we want those girls to have the choice."
The decision underlines a dramatic change in the FA's stance on the issue over recent years. Just four seasons ago, girls of secondary school age were prevented from playing football with boys. The age limit was raised from under-11s to under-13s for the 2011/12 season, with one-year increases implemented for each of the following seasons.
“If you look around Europe at some of the big countries there - like Holland, Germany and Italy - they've been playing mixed football to an older age group than us for many years," added Pavlou.
"It hasn't detrimented the girls' game or meant that all the girls' teams have folded. It's meant the odd few girls that want to can go and play with the boys, so they've still got a flourishing girls' programme, but there's a choice.
"That's all we've ever wanted - to make sure that, for those girls that want it, there is a choice."
Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis has also welcomed the change.
“Mixed teams offer girls a choice in the environment that they want to play," the former Everton keeper told TheFA.com.
"They are of particular value for talented players in areas where girls' football is still emerging or played to at a less competitive level. So if they are going to be better tested in mixed football, then why not?”
Mixed football for under-18s - have your say!
What do you think of the FA’s decision to raise the age limit for mixed football to under-18s?
Whether you're for or against the change, we want to hear from you and we want to hear why! Tell us what you think in the comments field below and cast your vote in our online poll now, either on your club or league website or via our demo site.