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Netherlands pilot move to allow women to play senior men's football

A new pilot scheme, introduced by the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) will allow amateur women to play in a senior men's team in the Netherlands.

Until this month, the KNVB has barred women over the age of 18 from playing senior men’s first team football, with them having to decide whether to play for a women’s team, or a women’s team, or a category B men’s team, known as reserve football.

The new scheme will enable one female footballer – 19-year-old Elle Fokkema – to join fourth tier VV Foarut for the 2020/21 season and experience category A football. If deemed successful, the scheme could lead to a change in regulations which will allow more female players to play senior men’s first team football in the future.

Art Langeler, head of development at KNVB has been quoted saying, "The KNVB stands for diversity and equality," the organisation's head of development Art Langeler said.

"We believe that there should be room for everyone in every way in football."

He confirms that KNVB receive several requests to allow women to play senior men's football every year, "In these cases, there is a nice sporting challenge that we do not want to block," says Langeler.

"That is why we are starting this pilot. Experience will tell if and how it works and based on that, we could apply a change of regulation."

In 1986, mixed football was permitted in the Netherlands until the age of 19. Without the pilot scheme, Fokkema would have been too old to play for VV Foaruut, limiting her to category B football.

"I was sorry that I wouldn't be able to play with them in a team next year," says Fokkema. "I've played with these lads since I was five.

"From the KNVB I was always advised to continue playing with the boys for as long as possible, so why shouldn't it be possible?

"It is quite a challenge, but that only excites me more. I dare not say how it will go, but I am very happy anyway that I can participate in this pilot."

The likes of Lucy Bronze, Rachel Daly, and Leah Williamson played in mixed teams when they were younger and are now English internationals. However, opinions on the debate are split as some believe the physiological differences increase the risk of injury, especially when teenagers become adults.

The English Football Association (FA) regulation allows mixed football until the age of 18, changed from 16 in 2015. Katie Chapman, Chelsea women’s ambassador says, “The difference in our mechanics does become an issue, Men are quicker and stronger. I think 18 is quite high.”

A review will be conducted at the end of next season whether the KNVB should continue to allow women to play senior men’s first team football in the future.

Author: James Parker