FA’s plan for women’s futsal national team will be a ‘game changer’

The Football Association is to create a women’s futsal national team for the first time as it tries to grow female participation and capitalise on the football team’s historic Euro 2022 success, the Guardian has learned.

An under-19s team will be set up, with the prospect of a full senior team coming later, and the men’s equivalent-age team will be relaunched to compete in the under-19s futsal European Championship qualifiers in January.

The move, described as a “game changer” for the women’s game in England, comes two and a half years after the FA axed nearly all funding for the Fifa-sanctioned five-a-side sport and was fined by Uefa for pulling the senior men’s team out of the Euro 22 qualifiers.

An FA spokesperson told the Guardian: “We are in the process of finalising exciting plans for futsal … which involve working with the sport’s wider stakeholders and include England representative teams at under-19s level. Full details will be announced in due course.”

Leanne Skarratt, a women’s and girls’ coach at Manchester Futsal Club, said: “This is a game changer for women’s futsal in England. Having a national team to aspire to will pave the the way for a new generation of female players, inspiring girls who want an alternative to football and who will be able to represent their country in a different format of the game. One that makes them even better as players.”

Manchester’s women’s team compete in tier 1 of the FA-backed National Futsal Series. BT Sport screens women’s and men’s games live as part of a three-year deal agreed last year.

At youth level, futsal’s growth in England is sustained by a sponsorship deal signed with Pokemon in 2019. Thousands of girls and boys compete in the national youth cup, which has been running since 2008.

When funding to the national team pathway was scrapped in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, the FA dismissed futsal as having only a “limited link” to its pursuit of a major 11-a-side tournament title.

Two years earlier, Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, had described futsal as a “key part in our strategy to grow the women’s and girls’ game” in a six-year plan, Fast Forward with Futsal, which included a pledge to create a women’s senior team to compete in the Uefa Women’s 2021 European Championship.

It is understood internal divisions over the approach to futsal still exist and that an external partner will be brought in by the FA to run the national teams.

Futsal, the indoor game born in South America in the 1930s, is widely recognised as essential to the development of creative and intelligent footballers at youth level in nations such as Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Iran, where it is the dominant game in schools and a professional sport in its own right.

The news comes days after Gareth Southgate said he felt England didn’t develop creative “playmakers” through “youth football and through academies” as well as other nations.

Uefa leads the way in pushing youth and women’s futsal alongside football. The third iteration of the women’s European championships and the men’s under-19s tournament take place next year. Spain have won all four tournaments.

Northern Ireland are the only UK nation to have competed in the women’s Euro qualifiers.

Fifa is under pressure to end its “deeply discriminatory” approach to women’s futsal after a campaign for it to launch a women’s World Cup sustained during the men’s tournament in 2021, which was won by Portugal for the first time.