WSL: How Dubai trip prompted postponements and anger in 'dark week for women's football'

Monday 11th January 2021 20:15 GMT

Chelsea's 5-0 win over Reading on Sunday was the only fixture to take place across the weekend of January 9/10, with the league counting the cost of a trip taken by players from Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Here we explain why a trip to the United Arab Emirates has sparked anger and disappointment, and what the ramifications for the WSL might be.

Who went to Dubai?

The WSL schedule was decimated just days after it was reported several WSL players had travelled to Dubai on a "business trip".

Three Arsenal players visited the United Arab Emirates over Christmas despite London being under tier four restrictions, which meant travel abroad was prohibited except for business reasons.

One player tested positive for coronavirus after returning, leading to "several first-team players" self-isolating.

Four players at Women's Super League side Manchester City tested positive for coronavirus after also returning from Dubai.

Manchester was in tier three at the time, meaning travel was allowed in accordance with government guidelines but not advised.

Manchester United boss Casey Stoney confirmed some of her squad had also gone to the United Arab Emirates during the Christmas break, although she did not reveal how many travelled.

"I said before Christmas that I will always take my players wellbeing into consideration and I granted permission for my players to go home and see family, and to go away and have a break," she said.

What was the impact?

Several WSL fixtures were postponed after reports of the Dubai trip emerged.

Games between Aston Villa and Arsenal, Manchester City and West Ham, Everton and Manchester United, and Bristol City vs Brighton were all postponed because of coronavirus cases depleting squads.

Manchester City's League Cup quarter-final at home to Chelsea on January 13 was also postponed.

Birmingham additionally pulled out of Sunday's fixture at Tottenham because of a shortage of available players due to injury.

What have the clubs said?

Stoney has taken full responsibility for her Manchester United players' actions.

"We felt we were making an informed decision but on reflection it wasn't a good decision and I'll admit that," she said. "I'm sincerely sorry for that because the buck stops and starts with me, and I'm responsible for that.

"But I'm not going to single out players and crucify them; at the end of the day it was a club decision and unfortunately it wasn't the right one.

"I've made an error and I'll look into it deeply and the impact it's had on people and the reaction that it's caused, and I'm deeply, deeply sorry for that.

"I expect my players to stick within government guidelines and club protocols, and our club protocols have been more stringent than government guidelines for a long time, which has taken a huge toll on our players.

"Anybody that is deemed to be breaking club protocols or government guidelines I take very seriously and I will deal with internally."

Arsenal and Manchester City have yet to comment.

What's been the reaction elsewhere?

Former England international Lianne Sanderson has called the players who travelled "irresponsible".

"I always want to get away, don't we all? But at the moment you have to take a little bit of responsibility and think - is this the right time to get away? Probably not," Sanderson told Sky Sports News.

"It's not just about you - it's about your team-mates, the staff and people at the training ground.

"I don't think the games should have been cancelled - they should have gone ahead.

"If I was a West Ham or Aston Villa player I would definitely be disappointed because they've been responsible enough to listen to what they are being told."

Former Scotland international Suzanne Winters said she was "hugely disappointed" and urged all three clubs to apologise.

"Everybody deserves the clubs to make a statement, to come out and apologise," former Scotland international Winters exclusively told Sky Sports News.

"At the end of the day everyone makes mistakes but we do need to get these clubs and the players involved to understand they have made the wrong decision.

"They need to apologise to everyone involved who are adhering to government guidelines.

"I'm hugely disappointed, like many people, and for me it's a little bit disappointing and irresponsible - for these players to go and obviously for the clubs to agree on it."

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes called on players and clubs to pull together after a "dark week for women's football".

"The privilege that has been bestowed upon us to go to work every day is one we are in jeopardy of losing," Hayes said.

"We're a professional league with an elite status - if you don't want the Government to take that away from us, then behave properly.

"It's been a dark week for women's football. Let's make sure these fixtures happen and that we're not irresponsible as clubs. It's not good enough, and we have to do better.

"The FA has to support that, but equally, we have to make sure we don't just throw the FA under the bus - they have a duty of care to players and they can only do what's presented to them. I'm disappointed with women's football this week, we've worked so hard to get where we are."

Sheffield United striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk says the trip was "ill-advised" and has called on Arsenal and Manchester City to apologise on behalf of their players.

"It's quite disappointing," Sweetman-Kirk told Sky Sports News. "Everyone makes mistakes so it's not for me to be judge and jury. Everyone would love a holiday right now but you've got to look at the times.

"It's one of those instances where it was very ill-advised.

"Casey Stoney has come out and apologised for Manchester United and I think that's what needs to follow.

"There has been a lot of bad press about it so maybe individual players are scared to come out because they fell there may be a backlash.

"The clubs of those players need to come out and set a statement.

"Everyone makes mistakes but as footballers we also are role models and I think it wasn't the right thing to do at this moment in time."

Bristol City boss calls for FA 'transparency'

Brighton's clash with Bristol City was the last game to be called off, with Hope Powell revealing that the request had initially been denied.

Before the postponement was confirmed, Bristol City manager Tanya Oxtoby called for clarity on the FA's decision to postpone some games and not other.

"The FA has a decision to make now around the clarification and transparency over the decision-making," Oxtoby told Sky Sports News.

"Obviously there's things they can't disclose, which I understand, but for us it's about understanding the decision-making process and being really clear.

"That would take away the feeling that bigger clubs are having different treatment because there may be underlying factors we're not aware of. But until we're filled in on those and able to understand them, there's certainly some frustration around what appears to be a little bit of a different decision with similar circumstances."

Is the WSL season under threat again?

Chelsea were crowned champions of the curtailed 2019/20 Women's Super League, overtaking Manchester City on a points-per-game record, with Liverpool relegated.

The WSL and Women's Championship seasons were ended with immediate effect in May 2020 and all clubs were given three options to resolve the final standings.

There is certainly a backlog of fixtures to deal with already in 2020/21 and the FA will hold talks with clubs this week about each of their situations.

The Women's FA Cup has been suspended following lockdown, with a coin toss one of a number of options being considered for the second and third rounds.

That prospect has not been welcomed.

"The suggestion of a coin toss is a real slap in the face to the women's game, it's embarrassing and an insult to women's football," Winters said.

"But obviously these postponements have a knock-on effect - there is a backlog of fixtures with Chelsea and Manchester City also in the latter stages of the Champions League."

Now On Air
Number 1s at 1
An hour of the greatest number 1s non-stop.