Gender divide in soccer association

CALLING FOR CHANGE: Soccer mum Caroline Dower, plus Millicent Soccer Club co-presidents Stuart Nuske and Ian Lines have called for a rule to be changed to allow women to play in the men's Limestone Coast Football Association competition.

By Trevor Jackson

A RIFT has appeared between the Limestone Coast Football Association men’s and women’s competitions, with women all-but prevented from playing in the men’s competition.

The two competitions were previously separate entities, with women competing in the South East Women’s Football Association.

The two competitions have combined under the LCFA for the 2021 season, a move aimed at streamlining the sport and showcasing the women’s game more.

However, the rules now state unless a club does not have a women’s team, females are not eligible to play in the men’s competition.

It leaves some outlying clubs such as Millicent in a difficult situation where women have been relied on to fill the numbers on game day in the men’s competition.

Millicent Soccer Club co-president Ian Lines said he would take the decision to a presidents’ meeting next week in the hope to have the rule overturned.

“About four or five weeks ago the (LCFA) board decided to ban women from playing the men’s game,” he said.

“They wanted to push the women’s game a bit more and they also suggested if you let the women play in the men’s comp, you have to let the men play in the women’s comp.

“Some of the regional clubs like us rely on girls topping up the boys teams, especially our junior grades.”

Lines said it was also important for the improvement of the women’s game overall.

“If you have a talented female you want them to play in the best competition you can,” he said.

“If you want to make the next Jenna McCormick they have to play in the boy’s league to get that competitive edge to improve themselves.

“It improves their own skills and they take it back to the girl’s competition and improve that.”

Lines said he believed most clubs wanted the rule overturned.

Caroline Dower, whose daughter Eliza has played in Millicent’s mixed competition since starting the mini roo program, said the ruling would have a significant impact on her wellbeing and sense of self.

“She has fostered really important relationships with her teammates and identifies them as being her friends, through under 12’s, under 14’s and now under 17’s,” she said.

“This has consistently been her team that she has trained with and played with for years and for her now to be told purely on gender she is no longer allowed to be part of this team is outrageous.

“It is really important for any child to have an opportunity to belong and she feels she belongs to this club and with this team.”

Dower said there was no consultation with affected parents and players, many of whom who have already started pre-selection training.

“The LCFA have had no consultation with the clubs and they have just made a decision,” she said.

“My understanding is they are meant to represent the clubs, but that is not what they are doing here.

“I have concerns about the decision-making process and I have significant concerns about the impact for our club, teams and individual players.”

However, LCFA president Eric Nieto said women were not banned from playing in the men’s competition.

He said with the two leagues now one entity, players could not have dual registrations to allow them to play in both.

“The women haven’t been banned,’ he said.

“We have a women’s competition and if there is a position for you to play in the women’s competition, you should play in the women’s competition.

“If your club doesn’t have a women’s team, you can play in the men’s competition.”

All clubs currently have women’s teams, which leaves the girls with only the one competition to play in.

Nieto said there was a lot more to the decision, which was designed to ensure the women’s game flourished.

“What you find in the past is the girls were playing three games a weekend playing SEWFA and Limestone Coast,” he said.

“Then ‘little Johnny’ is sitting on the bench twiddling his thumbs while there were girls playing three games.

“Let’s say, if a club has girls who want to play in the boy’s competition and they go up to Under 17 boys, you might not have enough girls to have a women’s team.

“You are then forfeiting your women’s team because you don’t have enough players.

“The clubs wanted a women’s comp under their umbrella so we got that.

“What is the point of bringing the women across if you are going to let them play in the men’s competition and forfeit the women’s.”

Nieto said there were other factors in play as well.

He said if the decision was overturned it would open the door for men to play in the women’s competition.

“If you go down that path where you want girls to play in the boy’s league, there is nothing wrong with a man playing in the senior women’s competition,” Nieto said.

“If you open it for the women, you have to open it for the men.

“We are not there to favour men or women – we have to give them a fair opportunity.

“We have tried to cover every angle with what is best for men and women equally.”