France, Spain and Nigeria players showed 'character' in Women's World Cup disputes, says Stokes

By Sports Desk July 11, 2023

England's Euro 2022-winning defender Demi Stokes respects players from France, Spain and Nigeria for taking a stance on conditions in women's football ahead of the World Cup.

The preparations of several teams for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand – which begins on July 20 – have been impacted by disputes between players and coaches or federations.

Earlier this year, France dismissed head coach Corinne Diacre after a group of players – including captain Wendie Renard – refused to represent Les Bleues under her.

The Lyon skipper has since been recalled by Diacre's successor, two-time Africa Cup of Nations winner Herve Renard. 

Meanwhile, 15 players told the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) they would no longer play under Roja boss Jorge Vilda last September, citing impacts on their "emotional state", though the RFEF has stood by the embattled coach. 

Manchester City left-back Stokes – who was an unused member of the Lionesses squad that won last year's Euros before being overlooked for the World Cup – believes the players involved have their teams' interests at heart.

"Obviously, Wendie Renard has her reasons for why she doesn't want to play for France," she said, speaking at the launch of Pixel FC, a collective of dedicated women’s football creators helping to close the visibility gap within women’s football.

"Without people like Wendie taking a stance – if you look at the Spanish team as well – there's not going to be changes.

"All they're asking for is change [in response] to the challenges, and they are just being authentic to themselves.

"If they said they are not playing for France and then go and play for France, people won't take them seriously. So, I respect what they've done.

"Hopefully things can change, things can be resolved and things can be put into practice to help these players, protect these players and support them. 

"When players take a stance, I think it just shows the characters that they are."

Only three of the Spain rebels – Mariona Caldentey, Aitana Bonmati and Ona Batlle – have been recalled, with Stokes' City team-mates Leila Ouahabi and Laia Aleixandri among those frozen out.

Asked who she was backing in the Spain dispute, Stokes said: "I don't know, I think it's very different when you're in that situation. 

"I've got team-mates who have taken that stance and stuck by it, and then equally you've got players who want to play, and I think everyone's very different. 

"I can't be the one to judge and say, 'you're wrong or right'. It wouldn't be easy for me to just say I'd do that, because in the moment, it can be very different."

Nigeria have also seen their World Cup preparations hampered by an internal quarrel, with players threatening to boycott games if the Nigerian Football Federation reneges on an agreement to split revenue from the tournament.

Asked if she thought the Nigeria squad would follow through on that threat, Stokes said: "I'm not sure. 

"Hopefully they can resolve their issues, and it's probably never nice to boycott, but if they take that stance then they're doing it for a valid reason and they're doing it for a bigger picture and a bigger cause."

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