By Maitane Alaña and Olga Bagatini
The 2019 edition of the Women’s Libertadores kicks off this Friday in Quito, Ecuador amid a backdrop of political chaos that has engulfed the country.
What is being described by Conmebol and the Latin American press as the biggest and richest in the competition’s history, now features no less than 16 teams.
However, the competition – which runs from October 11-27 – takes place under a cloud of uncertainty. Austere economic measures announced by president Lenín Moreno last week have caused protests and strikes across Ecuador, forcing the government to relocate the capital to Guayaquil and declare a state of emergency.
The tumult began when subsidies on gasoline and diesel were eliminated, but, despite the political and social uncertainty, Conmebol and the Organizing Committee are going ahead with plans to stage the competition in Quito – guaranteeing that the schedule will be followed and no matches will be suspended.
A technical meeting on Thursday defined logistics and safety strategies. Organizers say the Ecuadorian Football Federation is “constantly monitoring the situation so that the tournament begins with the necessary guarantees and security”.
Nevertheless, some teams have already suffered consequences and had to change their training schedules.
Corinthians, from Brazil, arrived in Quito on Sunday to acclimate to altitude levels of 2,820 metres, but had to change hotels, as did the squad of Libertad/Limpeño, from Paraguay. Other clubs, such as UAI Urquiza, also had to alter their schedules.
“There are a lot of protests on the streets, some involving conflicts and violence. On Tuesday, the Organizing Committee requested us to leave our hotel in the centre of Quito, the heart of the protests, and go to a safer place,” Corinthians coach Arthur Elias told his club’s official website.
On Thursday, the team had to change practice plans because they were barred from leaving the hotel by police because of security issues.
“We are being escorted by police everywhere. The Organizing Committee has performed an excellent role with us. We are having all the support we need,” Elias added.
For the local team, Ñañas, the situation has been even worse with their preparation thrown into chaos by the strikes in the city.
“Players haven’t been able to attend training sessions,” club founder and current player Fernanda Vásconez told the Sports Gazette.
“We finished the national tournament two weeks ago and the preparation time has been cut short.”
However, despite all the issues surrounding the tournament, Vásconez is hugely positive about the current state of the game.
“Women’s football has had an enormous worldwide growth even in Ecuador, where women filled a whole stadium for the Superleague final. That hasn’t even happened in men’s football.
“If the situation was normal, lots more people would go to the stadiums (to watch the Libertadores), but in any case, the competition continues and we expect a great show.”
The other Brazilian representative, Ferroviária, arrived in Quito on Wednesday and were able to avoid the climate of instability.
“We had an escort provided by Conmebol to ensure our safety on the way to the hotel. The protests are taking place in the historic centre, far from where we are, so for now we haven’t had to change our routine and also didn’t go through the mishaps that some teams had,” said Ferroviária manager, Ana Lorena Marche.
It remains to be seen whether Conmebol and the Organizing Committee will be able to bring their championship back to the headlines for the right reasons.
*Collaborated Flávia Festa