European football clubs are clashing with the national teams over the mandatory release of players for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The European Club Association (ECA), which includes clubs in England’s Women’s Super League, released a statement insisting that players will be unable to join their national teams until just 10 days before the start of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

The ECA has “serious concerns” that players are not being given enough time to rest after the domestic season and will seek to “strictly adhere” to FIFA’s mandatory release period of July 10. This could be a significant blow to England’s preparations, with the Lionesses having planned to meet up for their World Cup camp at St George’s Park several weeks before then in June.

The women’s domestic season is set to conclude with the Champions League final on June 3, and the ECA wants there to be enough time for players to rest before the World Cup and the start of the 2023-24 season. The ECA says the protection of players’ health and wellbeing is a “priority,” with injuries currently a major issue in the women’s game.

Leading players are facing five consecutive summers of major international tournaments following the postponed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, with the Women’s World Cup in 2023, the Olympics in 2024, and the next Euros in 2025. England captain Leah Williamson has already been ruled out of the tournament after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament, with her Arsenal teammates Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema also set to miss the World Cup due to serious knee injuries.

England’s Leah Williamson poses with the trophy after the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 final between England and Germany at Wembley

This season’s Women’s Super League has been heavily affected by injuries, and England defender Lucy Bronze was the latest player to have an injury scare, with the Barcelona right-back set to miss two weeks after undergoing keyhole surgery on her knee.

The issue of early call-ups for international duty is a hangover from the game in its amateur form and is detrimental to the future success and growth of women’s football, says Claire Bloomfield, the ECA’s head of women’s football. She insists that it’s not a matter of financial compensation or the absence of adequate protection and insurance, but a serious concern for player welfare.

The ECA says it will seek to collaborate with FIFA in working with national associations (NAs) on not requiring the presence of a player before the mandatory release period starts. “ECA reiterates its full support for the importance of international duty and of national team competitions and especially the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but also insists that all stakeholders respect the principles upon which this duty rests,” said a statement from the ECA.

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