Clubs angry as England Women plan long camp before July internationals

The England Women club v country row has reignited with several clubs angry at the Football Association’s plans to call up players three weeks before the controversial international window in July.

It is a rare summer without a tournament for the players but England have games at the end of May and in early June before facing the Republic of Ireland and Sweden in Euro 2025 qualifiers in the 8-16 July period earmarked for international games. The intention of the FA is to call up players a few days before the 27 May-4 June matches and then to recall players on the 19 June for the final two qualifiers.

Fifa rules state it is “not compulsory” for clubs to release players outside an international window but that “the clubs and associations concerned may agree a longer period of release or different arrangements”.

The July games are particularly contentious, publicly criticised by Ada Hegerberg and Leah Williamson among others, and it has led to a resurfacing of the issue that had an impact on preparations for last year’s World Cup. In April 2023 the European Club Association (ECA) raised concerns about federations’ plans to call up players before the mandatory release date of 10 July, cutting into their time off. The English FA intended to call players up for their pre-tournament camp as early as 19 June.

As a result of the stalemate between clubs and federations over the release of players, the ECA and Fifa renegotiated the release period, with the mandatory release date of 10 July deemed far too late for a tournament beginning on 19 July. However, their new guidance of between 23 and 29 June was pushed back on by England, who stuck to their 19 June camp start date.

Arsenal’s Leah Williamson, who has recently returned from an ACL injury, has been critical of the calendar. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The concern from clubs this time is similar in that the players will not have a rare break, even with England having failed to earn Team GB a spot at this summer’s Paris Olympics. There had been an opportunity for players to pause after back-to-back major tournaments and there is frustration that the promises that last year’s fiasco would not be repeated have not been kept.

However, from the FA’s point of view, with the Women’s Super League finishing on 18 May and the Champions League final taking place a week later, it needs out-of-season players match fit for critical qualifying games and wants to limit the risk of injury to players coming into environment after little football.

An FA spokesperson said: “The whole game is dealing with the challenge of the women’s international match calendar. We are working positively with clubs to find short-term solutions that have player welfare as a priority, while recognising the importance of the upcoming Euro 2025 qualifiers. These discussions are ongoing. Longer term, we hope Uefa and Fifa can work collectively with international federations and clubs to understand the impact of the calendar for players on and off the pitch.”

Uefa declined to comment on the decision to schedule competitive fixtures in July, while many leagues in Europe are in off-season. For many stakeholders, the blame lies with Fifa’s international match calendar, which is not set to change until 2026. Consultation on what it will look like is ongoing.

During England’s warm-weather training camp in Marbella in February, Sarina Wiegman criticised the calendar. “We can’t change it,” the manager said. “So, you’re trying to do the best to take care of the players and at the same time perform to the highest level and take out the highest risks of getting injured, in collaboration with clubs. The clubs, and we as the FA, don’t have any control over the calendar.”

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There are many issues the international match calendar must navigate, with some leagues, such as the WSL, playing across the winter, and others, such as the National Women’s Soccer League in the US, across the northern hemisphere summer, making the scheduling of windows within the season difficult. It must also balance domestic interests with international interests. Meanwhile, players at elite clubs and those playing for the most developed national teams are at risk of overload while there is a lack of competitive games for those who play for emerging national teams or are at clubs who do not play in continental competitions or go far in domestic cups.

Fifa did not wish to comment on questions about the international match calendar. However, the Guardian understands that the calendar is approved by its member associations after extensive input and feedback from stakeholders and that the organisation sees its role as being a mediator in the process of developing the calendar.

A statement from the Women’s Leagues Forum, which was set up in conjunction with a number of women’s professional leagues in November to unite them and provide a collective representation, said discussions about the calendar must balance the growth of domestic football with the international game: “Women’s leagues and their clubs are now the major drivers of growth and professionalism in women’s football. It is crucial that the calendar enables sustainability and growth of these leagues – including through regularity in fixturing and broadcasts, and player rest and recovery,” it said.

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