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What’s the current situation of women’s football in South America like?

Corinthians celebrate their trophy. Phot: Bruno Teixeira Rolo/Corinthians

Corinthians celebrate their trophy in this edition of Copa Libertadores. Photo: Bruno Teixeira Rolo/Corinthians

The Women’s Copa Libertadores held its first match on Friday 11th of October, within the midst of Ecuador’s political instability. For security reasons, the 16 teams taking part were grouped together in the same hotel and training grounds were moved nearer to the stadiums hosting the championship. 

After the initial match between the current Colombian champions Atlético Huila and Uruguayan Peñarol, the Organising Committee decided to postpone the games on the second day of competition due to protests. 

In the official announcement, organisers stated that they were interested in participants’ and public’s well being and security. Matches were resumed on Monday after negotiations between the Government and demonstrators reached an agreement. 

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Colombian Atletico Huila won the Copa Libertadores Women 2018 after defeating Santos of Brazil by penalties. 

But, leaving the external political issues to one side, women’s football has quite a different situation in every Latin American country. 

In October 2018, FIFA initiated a strategy to improve women’s football, with a set aim of having 60 million players registered by 2026. The plan involves implementing the necessary conditions to reach those figures. 

In Brazil, football has been prohibited for women for years, as a Brazilian journalist specialised in Women’s Football told us, girls had to play with doll’s heads, which is quite shocking.

This is related to the discrimination women suffer in sports in general; although, funnily enough, their national team got into the final in 2007 and fought until the Round of 16 in the France World Cup. Marta Vieira da Silva became the first player to reach 17 goals in a World Cup, including the men. So that’s that. 

By contrast, in Colombia, women’s teams haven’t played a proper league this year, because of the lack of success of the organising bodies; in this case the so-called DIMAYOR (Colombian Football’s Mayor Division)… it only lasted three months! This length was also seen in the 2017-2018 season. 

To top it all off, there are no signs that a team will be organised by 2020, even though their national team won gold in the Panamerican Games. 

Argentina has historically been a football–lover, as it is home to important players, such as Maradona or Messi. Nevertheless, women playing football is quite new – since 1991 to be exact – where eight teams started competing for the championship, influenced by the First World Cup organised by FIFA in that same year. 

But professionally only since March. The Argentinean Football Association announced real salaries to women; on this side of the Atlantic in countries such as Spain, the start of women’s professional football dates back to 1988. 

Even in England, the professional circuit was professionally organised in 2010, having been amateur since 1991. 

Earlier this year, the Argentinean club San Lorenzo de Almagro announced the first professional contracts to women: they signed 15 players. Macarena Sánchez was amongst them and became a symbol for this movement after sueing her previous team – UAI Urquiza, also in this edition of Copa Libertadores – for not paying her in the seven years she played for the squad.  

The club will only fully finance eight of them, the rest will be partially paid by the Argentinian FA.

Wages are nowhere to be seen in Uruguay, as a professional league is still a mirage. Players have to buy their own kit in order to play. Rosina Peña, member of the Uruguayan Football Association, said in an interview with Ovación Digital: “the women’s football professionalisation in Uruguay is behind the rest of the countries.” Her first change would be to implement the necessary basic conditions of clothing and training, as well as material and security measures. 

On the other hand, in the case of Chile, Santiago Morning sets an example for the rest of women’s football, having been the first team to professionalise its players and has made huge advances. 

Whether or not the Women’s World Cup has made an impact on global understanding of equality is questionable. In Ecuador, it was watched by thousands of followers even though their national team didn’t get very far. However, the most important landmark was the “Sold Out” sign for a women’s final: Deportivo Cuenca vs Ñañas last season. This hasn’t happened even in men’s football, which is something remarkable.   

Bolivia and Peru: worst case scenarios

In Bolivia,  there is no such thing as women’s football. Teams like Mundo Futuro FC, representing the country in Copa Libertadores, play amateur tournaments. The Media doesn’t have enough information about these squads and looking for statistics or even the players’ names has been a challenge. This lack of information is also a fact in Venezuela. 

The Peruvian team in Copa Libertadores, Municipalidad de Majes, won the championship cup title and since then, December 2018, has not played an official match. Due to unknown circumstances the team is hanging up their boots after seven years of history. 

With this information, it is clearly visible that FIFA definitely has work to do.

Maitane Alana Place
Maitane Alaña was born to a half Spanish and half English family, but has always lived in Bilbao, in the north of Spain. This is where her passion about football grew by playing for different teams and watching Athletic Club of Bilbao’s matches. She completed her Journalism Degree in Bilbao and started getting experience on a local radio- Uribe FM. To follow her childhood dream of becoming a sports journalist, she signed up for St Mary’s MA in International Sports Journalism.
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