Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Ministers are putting pressure on the Scottish Football Association to penalise Scotland's top football clubs if they do not form women's teams. The Scottish executive has reacted to suggestions that important teams are "living in the dark ages" by calling for the development of the women's game to be a condition of the club being licensed by the game's ruling body.

Films such as Bend it Like Beckham, which starred Keira Knightley and ER's Parminder Nagra, have helped to make the sport one of the fastest growing in the country, with 4,000 registered players in youth and senior teams. The Scotland women's squad has risen to 17th in Europe and 29th in the world, but only a handful of clubs, including Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, provide support for the game. Julie Fleeting, the Scotland women's captain, played professional football in the USA women's league before joining Arsenal because there was little scope in Scotland.

Ministers say Scotland's male-dominated senior clubs must support moves to create teams for women or face disciplinary action. Sanctions could include a ban on clubs taking part in European competitions or a refusal to issue grants to the clubs. Their intervention follows a warning earlier this month from a top women's football official, who accused SPL clubs of "living in the dark ages". Maureen McGonigle, the executive administrator of Scottish Women's Football (SWF), said moves to get the top clubs in Scotland to form female teams, mirroring successful efforts south of the border, had so far failed. "A bomb needs to be put under these archaic men. There are clubs who have empty seats week in and week out and they have to start encouraging women to be there," she said recently. "How do you do that? You can start a women's team and show that you are not living in the dark ages . . . There are mothers, daughters, sisters who want to play football."

In England, clubs including Chelsea, Everton and Fulham, have established women's sides which compete in FA-backed league and cup competition. Patricia Ferguson, minister for culture, sport and tourism, claims senior Scottish clubs have a crucial role in promoting wider access and involvement for women. Asked whether the SFA should force clubs to integrate girls' and women's soccer into their community football and player development structures, she said: "Yes. We would also wish to have as soon as practicable a demonstrable commitment to women and girls' football as a condition in the performance club grant scheme". Ferguson wants the requirement added to a list of conditions clubs must abide by under the SFA licensing system.

Making a commitment to women's football mandatory is expected to be resisted by some clubs whose resources for the game are already stretched. Bill Aitken, a Scottish Tory MSP, branded the idea "ridiculous". He said: "I would encourage football clubs to form women football teams and support women's football generally. But this is totally over the top and it appears that Scotland is rapidly becoming a country where compulsion replaces encouragement."


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