Mixed response to age limit increase in mixed football

Grassroots opinion divided over FA plans to raise age limit for mixed football to under-16s

Opinion remains divided in the grassroots football community over plans to increase the age limit for mixed football in England.

From the start of next season girls and boys as old as 16 will be able to play football for the same team, a change supported by the majority of Club Website members.

53 percent of those polled said they were in favour of the increase, which the Football Association hopes will give more opportunities to more girls to play the game.

Among those in favour was Naomi Davies who, discussing the issue on our Facebook page, said: “I think this is great for girls football as the boys naturally push the girls who chose to play in a mixed team harder, so any extra length of time spent with them can only be a good thing.”

The age limit increase is the fourth implemented by the FA in as many seasons. Just three summers ago, children at under-11s were the oldest allowed to play with both boys and girls in the team, but the FA has since had a strong chance of policy.

Having extended the age limit to under-13s for the 2011/12 season, the FA reported largely positive feedback for the change, which has been followed by a one-year increase for each of the following three seasons.

Kelly Simmons, the FA’s Director of the National Game, described the changes as “really great news” and said that "the most important thing is to give girls who want to play football the choice.”

By offering this choice to more girls, the FA hopes to increase participation in girls' and women's football, one of the key priorities of their 2012 Game Changer strategy, which outlines the ambition of making women's football England's second largest team sport, behind men's football, by 2018.

But not everyone agrees with the changes, with many opponents citing the physical differences between boys and girls as they develop through their teenage years.

"It's wrong, boys after 14 scientifically get stronger and girls won't get a spot in a boys team! It will decrease participation and will be taking womens football back a step!" said Tash Holt on Facebook.

Tony Gardner, a youth football referee, added: "I think this one is a bridge too far. I am fully in favour of mixed football in the lower age groups, it works well as the girls can be as good as the boys.

"However, once you get beyond the age of puberty, then the wisdom of allowing them to participate in a sport which can involve close physical contact is very questionable! Are we as referees going to have to apply a different standard for a male challenging a female as opposed to a female challenging a male?"

As recently as 2009, as many as 60 percent of Club Website members said they were against the idea of mixed football played by children over the age of 12. With a majority now in favour of it being played at under-16s, it shows how quickly opinion changes as the game moves on.

The FA and supporters of mixed football will hope that a similar shift in opinion will continue as the new age limit comes into effect this season.

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Club Website poll: The age limit for mixed football in England has been raised to under-16s for the 2014/15 season. Are you in favour of the change?

Yes 53%
No 47%

Total votes: 1,840 votes

Image courtesy of TheFA.com

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