A gender inequality row has erupted in football after the FA doubled down on its decision to close girls' academies during lockdown while boys' academies have been allowed to remain open.
The move has sparked anger and concern in the women's game, particularly as it closely follows the decision to halt the women's FA Cup until after lockdown is over, while the equivalent men's competition has been given the green light to continue, despite also involving non-elite teams.
"I don't know who makes these decisions but they clearly don't realise how far the women's game has come," Helen Ward, a footballer for Watford FC Women, told Sky News.
"I can't get my head around it, it sends a really bad message and instils the belief in the next generation that boys' football is more important than girls'."
The FA said in a statement after the controversy erupted that all academies belonging to Womens' Super League clubs would have to remain closed until at least the end of the national lockdown on 2 December, because it deemed their resources "do not meet the necessary 'elite' protocols".
But boys' academies, some of them based within the same facilities, will be allowed to remain open.
"I think it is hard to say it's anything other than gender inequality," said Ward.
"It shows a total lack of regard for the women's game and we risk losing young girls to the sport forever because four weeks is a long time off."
It is understood that the government would have allowed girls academies to remain open, as per their guidance which stipulates that an elite athlete is any person "aged 16 or above on an elite development pathway".
This issue has rightfully been flagged to me today.— Alex Scott MBE (@AlexScott) November 6, 2020
Will do all I can to look into this and get some answers.
We must do everything to stop inequality like this in our amazing game whilst simultaneously ensuring the safety of everyone. https://t.co/ZVXLs9YMbq
Alex Culvin, a former professional footballer and now a lecturer in sport business at the University of Salford, told Sky News the decision was "ridiculous and separatist and indicative of the FA's interpretation of women's football".
Leading football pundit and former player Alex Scott also said she would work to get answers about the FA's decision.
"We must do everything to stop inequality like this," she wrote on social media.
Sky News has contacted the FA for further comment.