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10-year old sparks debate over FA's rules

March 21, 2006 09:51 IST

Ten-year-old Londoner Minnie Cruttwell has reignited a debate in soccer which looks set to run and run.

The schoolgirl from Balham wants to play football with the big boys and is crying foul that when she is 12, Football Association (FA) rules dictate that she cannot.

"It's really unfair. I like the team I'm with now and I don't want that to change," defender Cruttwell said in a telephone interview.

The FA argue that the ruling is for her own good but Minnie and her father Greg Cruttwell reckon the English game's governing body is out of touch and have lined up some big guns in their efforts to change its mind.

Not only is the campaign to allow Minnie to continue playing with boys her own age backed by a cabinet minister responsible for the running of sport in Britain, but the women's world champions, Germany, say she is right too.

After receiving a letter from Minnie, Tessa Jowell, the Culture, Media and Sports Secretary, agreed to come and watch the youngster in action at her South London club and said she was "bowled over" by her passion for the game.

"Minnie Cruttwell embodies that passion and I know that she is disappointed that she won't be able to play in the same team any more," said Jowell, who is also the Minister for Women.

"Women's football is England's fastest-growing sport and I'm concerned that we are the only country in Europe who have a blanket ban in place for mixed football at this age level."

QUESTION OF CHOICE

Jowell set up a meeting for Minnie to put her claim to the FA, and since then the association has agreed to talk to children from around the country.

"We have met with Minnie and her friends, and we will consult with other children of different ages and playing abilities and get their opinions too," an FA spokeswoman said in an interview.

Greg Cruttwell believes that girls should be able to decide for themselves if they want to carry on playing in mixed teams.

"It's about having the choice. To deny them the choice means that you are denying them the potential to progress at the highest level," he said.

Cruttwell reckons that the FA could learn a few lessons from Germany, where the women's football team are world and European champions and several of the top players were allowed to continue competing against boys during their early teenage years.

"To play with boys is an advantage for any girl...having to win your place in the team makes you more competitive," Silvia Neid, Germany's national team coach said.

"Playing against men helps you think quicker and accept physical challenge."

AVOID INJURIES

The FA argue that their system is better for the girls so that they can develop successful womens' teams and avoid injuries.

"By streaming the children at the particular age it allows us to develop specific career paths for these children that might actually go on and play at the highest level," the FA spokeswoman said.

"Boys and girls develop at different stages and that's not just to do with height; it's also to do with muscle mass... we have to be careful about injuries," she said.

But Minnie, who has been a key player in helping her mixed team build their success, is dreading being left on the sidelines while her team carry on achieving.

"I'd much rather play for a mixed team," she said. "I know they'll go on and win loads of things and I'll be really left out if I'm not winning with them."

(Additional reporting by Patrick Vignal)


Catherine Hornby
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