Women’s Football in South America: What to do for them to thrive?
It is less than a year before the next FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in France. Three South American countries qualified for the tournament: Brazil and Chile, best placed by the Conmebol qualifying tournament, and Argentina, who competed in a play-off match against Panama from Concacaf.
The reality of women’s football in South America is far from the reality of North America or European countries. The difference is so great that if the South American countries compete for a spot with Europeans in a same qualifying tournament, probably Brazil would be the only South American team with a chance to qualify. If Brazil qualified!
Despite the efforts made by FIFA to encourage women’s football in South America, the modality is still amateur across the continent. With the exception of a few clubs, mainly Brazilians, most female footballers don’t have a formal contract and labour rights and most have to keep other work to supplement their income and support themselves, furthermore they suffer prejudice daily from society and often from their relatives. Football is seen in South America as a men’s sport and women who practice this sport are often frowned upon by society in general.
From next year, according to Conmebol regulations, the men’s clubs in South America will need to have a women’s team to be fit for the men’s Libertadores competition in 2019. If this imposition will benefit the development of the female modality, only the future will say. But I believe that this determination is almost nothing compared to what still needs to be done to reduce the chasm of women’s football in South America compared to other countries.
Recently, the ninth edition of the Women’s Libertadores Cup was held in Brazil. On the Conmebol website, the competition page is not updated since 2015 and there was little publicizing of the tournament on social networks. The only improvement of previous editions was the broadcast of all matches through Conmebol’s Facebook, which received a good number of viewers.
After the competition ends, Yoreli Rincon, Huila’s captain, revealed that Atletico Huila’s women’s team will not receive the $55,000 prize they earned by winning the tournament as the money will be used to settle the men’s team’s outstanding debts, who plays in the first division of the Colombian League.
— Futbol Sin Limite (@futbolsinlimi) 4 de dezembro de 2018
Another disregard for women’s football was the controversial dismissal of coach Emily Lima of the Brazilian senior national team, after an inexpressive passage by coach Vadão ahead of the national team. Coach Emily Lima was hired for a new Olympic cycle after the Rio 2016 Olympics. However, it lasted only 10 months the trajectory of the coach ahead of the Brazil women’s senior national team. In 13 games, Lima added seven wins, one draw and five losses. The stumbling in the last matches, against stronger adversaries such as Germany, US and Australia, were decisive for the dismissal of the coach. Behind the resignation of coach Emily, after a short period of time, it would be expected that the CBF would hire a renowned coach, perhaps a foreign coach, with passages for great female teams, who had already won impressive titles commanding women’s teams, but no, they rehired Vadão as head coach. Who, by the way, continues doing a meaningless job ahead of the national team, accumulating defeats for the same teams that cost Emily Lima’s job. In the last six official friendlies made by the Brazil WNT led by coach Vadão, the Brazilian team only beat Japan by 2 to 1, losing games against Australia, Germany, US, England, Canada and France.
In fact, Brazil, which is the best South American country settled in the FIFA ranking, in the last eight years, dropped from third to tenth position, showing that Brazilian women’s football did not keep up pace with the evolution of other teams. The second best well-ranked team in South America is Colombia, in 26th place, whom curiously did not qualify for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup, but played beautifully in the previous edition. Who does not remember Colombia’s victory over France in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup by 2:0? Or Colombia’s draw against the USA in the 2016 Olympic Games by 2:2 with two goals by Catalina Usme? After Colombia, Argentina and Chile are third and fourth among the best ranked South American teams in the 36th and 38th places, respectively.
Presumably, both teams could be better ranked if they played more official friendly matches. Recently, Chile defeated Matildas by 3:2 in a friendly match hosted on Australian soil showing the quality and strength of the South American players, who need only more opportunities to reach the maximum potential of their football.
There is little time for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup, Argentine and Chilean supporters have to celebrate the strength of their footballers, who were heroines and who despite all the adversity and lack of support, managed to classify their country to the biggest tournament of women’s football.
I hope that the federations of their respective countries are more sensitive to women’s football, scheduling more friendly matches to prepare their team and invest more in the senior and youth categories and in the national tournaments.
In relation to Brazil, there is only sadness and disappointment, a national team that has already delighted everyone with their football, never received the attention and investment which the team deserved. The country who has the best player in the history of women’s football, never celebrated and honoured this player, as she deserved. The generation of Marta, Cristiane, Formiga, among others deserved more. Unfortunately, this current senior national team doesn’t convinced anyone, not due to the players, but due to the work that has been done by the coaching staff, that should have never returned after the 2016 Olympic Games. By the way, the Brazilian national team needs a coaching staff renewal, not only in the senior team, but also in the youth categories, who did not convince in the tournament of their respective categories.
The right formula to promote women’s football in South America remains a mystery. But, I’m sure it starts with respect. Respect of clubs and federations towards the athletes and those who dedicate their life to women’s football and share the passion for the modality. Respect for them to have access to better salaries and professionalization of the modality, allowing them to dedicate exclusively to the sport, respect for them to have access a more friendly matches and better working conditions… respect!