‘I wouldn’t do it’: England’s Wiegman and Stokes oppose plan for more World Cups

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The England Women manager, Sarina Wiegman, has cautioned against plans for a biennial World Cup because of the toll it would take on players.

“I wouldn’t do it,” the former Netherlands head coach said before her team’s second 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifier, in Luxembourg, on Tuesday night. “It’s not very good for the players, for their welfare.

“When you have all these tournaments [World Cups, Olympics and Euros] every year, where are the players going to get some rest? Where are they going to recover from a very intense football year every year? Players are not robots.”

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Wiegman, who said that Leah Williamson would continue as captain in the absence of the injured Steph Houghton, urged Fifa to include managers and players in its consultations. Fifa has said it will hold an online summit with football associations next Thursday.

“I hope that all the stakeholders will be asked and that they will take some advice from them, and coaches with international experience are stakeholders and we should be part of that discussion, and we know the players: players are stakeholders too,” she said.

The England full-back Demi Stokes echoed Wiegman’s misgivings. “The welfare of players physically but most of all mentally is important,” the Manchester City player said. “When you come back from a tournament, whether it’s been successful or unsuccessful, it is very taxing and very draining.”

Stokes said if the change were made it would be important that resources were put in to support players through the increasingly intense schedule. “Welfare of players, physio, strength and conditioning, all that then has to elevate with it,” she said.

Stokes has seen the impact international tournaments can have on club football, with City shouldering a huge number of injuries primarily among players who competed with Team GB at the Olympics. Lucy Bronze, Keira Walsh, Ellie Roebuck, Steph Houghton, Lauren Hemp, Caroline Weir, Ellen White and Georgia Stanway have, or have had, injuries requiring varying levels of treatment.

“We want to put on good performances and play good football and I think in order to do that you have to have the full package of making sure a player is mentally, physically, recovered to go again,” said Stokes. “At some point you will break down if you keep going and going and going.”

On Friday England defeated North Macedonia 8-0 in the first game of Wiegman’s reign and a first competitive fixture since the Women’s World Cup in 2019. It was not the only large margin of victory in the first round of European qualifying, with Austria beating Latvia 8-1, Spain and Norway putting 10 past the Faroe Islands and Armenia respectively and Germany beating Bulgaria 7-0. Wiegman said those kinds of results were not ideal and that there had to be discussions on “what’s best to get the women’s game to a higher level”, with pre‑qualifiers an option.

“It’s hard,” she said. “These teams are developing and what you want to do is develop women’s football worldwide, and also in Europe of course, but the difference between qualities now is actually huge and it’s not very competitive when you win 8-0 … Countries that are lower‑ranked need help with developing programmes, maybe something grassroots.

“I don’t know the situation in all the countries, but projects at the grassroots and involving top-level competitions, all those things that make the gap closer or tighter. That takes time but now the top countries have improved so much so the gap has become a little bigger than we hoped.”

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