AN 11-year-old footballer known as ‘Mini Messi’ could be barred from playing with her team next season because she is a girl.
But now the young athlete has launched a petition to urge the Welsh Football Association to level the playing field for all girls.
Megan Lewis, of Richmond Road, Newport, plays for the Under 11’s side at the Riverside Rovers.
But the football rules in Wales stop children playing in mixed-sex games when they reach 12, and as Megan turns 12 next March, it means she could be barred from playing for her team from the start of next season in August.
The rules from the Football Association of Wales state: “Except in small-sided matches involving players under the age of twelve years, no football match in which players of the opposite sex are involved shall be permitted to be played [...] except in those area associations where there is no junior league available.”
The FAW states if the provision is there, girls should play on girls-only teams. Andrew Howard of FAW, said: “As there are girls-only teams at that stage, she should play on a girls team. It’s very much to grow the women’s game.”
However, it is not clear what is meant by “provision”. There are currently two girls’ teams in Newport, but there is no girls’ league in Gwent, which may be enough to justify Megan continuing in her mixed team.
Addressing the committee at the Newport District Junior Youth League AGM on Wednesday evening, Megan’s father, James Lewis, said: “We’re looking to establish what the actual rule is [...] the FA rule is a little bit cloudy.
“She’d like right now, to stay with the team. She would like to have the choice to play with her mates.”
Both England and Scotland allow girls to play on mixed teams until they are 15. The FA in England changed their rules as a result of a petition of 6,000 signatures collected by two 11-year-old girls, so now Megan hopes to do the same.
Her mother, Sian Pretty, said: “We want these girls to have the same rights as the girls in England.”
Ask the shy 11-year-old why she wants to stay on her side and her answer is simple: “Because all my friends are there.”
But this is an issue the FAW are investigating. The FAW’s Women and girl’s football strategy states: “The FAW will undertake a review of mixed football, currently operating for under 11’s.”
Mr Howard said the terms and conditions for the review are being drawn up.
In Wales, football is the most popular team sport in primary schools for girls and Megan regularly plays for her school team at Glan Usk Primary. But she has been playing for the Riverside Rovers for six years, where she is the only girl playing at the club.
Stephen Walsh has coached Megan on the Under 11’s Riverside Rovers team for the past two years. He said: “She’s my best player. I think a girl who’s established in a boys’ side should go on until it gets to a stage where it’s too visible. At 15, a girl competing against 15-year-old boys is at a disadvantage, but at this stage it’s not. It boils down to the capability of the individual.
“It’s like a big family at the club and she’s been here so long. I don’t want to lose her. It would be a great shame.”
Although a Manchester United fan, Megan’s favourite footballer is Rachel Yankey, from FA Cup-winning side Arsenal Ladies, who she has written to about her petition. The central midfielder, says she hopes one day to represent her country.
Mr Walsh is supporting Megan’s petition and said: “If she can do it for every team, that’s a result.”
Megan’s online petition, which currently has 150 signatures, can be found at: www.ipetitions.com/petition/raise-the-age-for-mixed-sex-football-teams-in