BY PATRICK GYSIN
FOOTBALL chiefs have been criticised over a controversial move to impose a three points for a win ruling in the children’s game which critics say promotes a “win at all costs” mentality.
Now the SELKENT League, one of the largest youth football leagues in the country – with more than 10,000 youngsters playing in around 800 teams – has returned its coveted Football Association Charter Standard status in protest.
The Football Association introduced wide-sweeping changes in the youth game in 2013 to try and improve the game following disappointing results by the England national side.
Changes include: Five-a-side football for seven and eight year olds, nine-a-side for 11 and 12 year olds and plans to phase out competitive football until youngster reach the Under 13s age group.
But one rule imposed nationwide by the FA which almost went unnoticed was the decision to bring grassroots football in line with the professional game – and award three points for a win in league games.
While some youth football leagues have already opted to award three points for a victory, others still award two points arguing it creates better competition and makes a draw seem more valuable.
Leagues such as the SELKENT say awarding two points for a win stops weaker teams giving up half way through a season because they feel they are too far behind mid-table sides and also stops sides “running away” with the league title giving teams in second and third a hope of catching their rivals.
The league says it’s intention has always been to offer children a season of fun, excitement and development.
They say to “force” this league to replace two points with three points will change the whole infrastructure of a child friendly league.
Now the SELKENT League (South East London and Kent Youth Football League) – the largest youth league in London – has taken the rare step of returning its Charter Standard Award back to the Football Association in protest.
A league representative handed the award back to the London County FA head office in Fulham on Thursday (SEPT 4) with a letter explaining its decision.
A copy of the letter was also sent to Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA and other officials.
It has also sent a copy of the letter to the FA’s Charter Standard award sponsors McDonalds.
In the letter Sally Dolan, the league’s secretary, says: “It is with great sadness and reluctance that the SELKENT League has made the decision to return our Charter Standard Award.
“The reason for this decision is the FA’s introduction of the mandatory rule of 3 points for a win, which effectively undermines the child friendly principles on which this league founded in 2002.
“The SELKENT has always prided itself on the ethos that every child should be given the chance to achieve. To this end we established two-tier seasons; not only for Mini-Soccer but also for 9 and 11-a-side football.
“This provides children with the motivation to continue playing if they have not done well in the first season. We awarded 2 points for a win and 1 for a draw and four years ago we withdrew goal difference.
“Both measures were taken to discourage a ‘win at all costs’ philosophy and to prevent teams from being disillusioned by their inability to catch up with teams above them in the tables.
“Much to our dismay The FA introduced the mandatory rule of 3 points for a win, with effect from season 2013-2014, despite it obviously conflicting with the rationale behind the ‘no goal difference’ rule.
“I immediately raised the league’s concerns with senior officers and members of the FA who confirmed their support for an amendment to allow Leagues to retain the choice of the number of points to award.
The SELKENT League contravened the rule last season and continued to award 2 points for a win on the assumption that the rule would be revoked for Season 2014-2015.
“It was therefore with great surprise and disappointment that, on receiving the rules for the new season, we noted that the rule remained.
“The SELKENT League believes that this rule contradicts the FA Youth Review’s key message of ensuring that “all key people involved in the game need to embrace developments in the best interests of young people, constantly putting children’s interests before our own”.
“Based on its founding principles, the League is not willing to compromise its stance on providing a child friendly football environment, and we believe that our decision to return the Award reflects the strength and conviction of our feelings.
“It is not a decision that has been reached lightly and we hope that the FA sees sense and reviews its position, so that an organisation that provides an excellent football experience for over 10,000 young people every Sunday can continue to do so with the blessing of football authorities.”
Mrs Dolan – who was awarded the League Secretary of the Year Award by the London FA in 2013 – addressed the 80 clubs in the league at a meeting last night (WED) where she outlined the league’s decision.
They gave her their full support.
Speaking about the decision, she said: “It is not something we do lightly.
“We were extremely proud and honoured to be awarded the FA Charter Standard Award. We were the first league in London to be given the status.
“As a league, we worked incredibly hard for it – so to hand it back saddens us.
“But we believe we are doing this for the right reasons.”
The Football Association confirmed that the three points for a win rule was in the Standard Code of Rules for Youth Football but refused to comment any further.