Women's Football in South America: What to do for them to thrive?

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.

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.

Women's Football in South America: What to do for their to thrive?

Image: FIFA.com

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.

Women's Football in South America: What to do for their to thrive?

Image: FIFA.com

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!

  1. Thank you very much for bringing to the fora the situation of women’s soccer in South America. It is a subject matter that does not appear in outlets very often to say the least and, consequently, it is quite commendable the effort by Izzy. The article is particularly relevant in view of the upcoming 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the fact that only three teams from that part of the world qualified to the said international competition: Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

    The article argues correctly there is an abysmal difference between the realities of teams from South America and those from Europa and the USA. The article also claims that there is great quality difference between teams from South America and from Europe to the point that South American teams would not even qualify for the World Cup at all if they had to test themselves against their European counterparts.

    The article appears to equalize difference in realities with difference in quality. It is correct that female soccer players in the US and Europe have better “infrastructure” to develop their skills and stamina. To start with, they count with professional leagues, organized competitions, salaries and labor rights. In the U.S., younger players count with organized leagues and very pushy and affluent suburban soccer moms, usually white, who have the means to cover expenses for travel and extra training. However, that better infrastructure does not translate necessarily into better quality, otherwise the USA U-17 soccer team would have reached at least the semifinals in the recent FIFA international tournament held in Uruguay. Instead, the USA U-17 team was miserably eliminated in the group stage.

    The said international competition included three European teams: Spain, Germany, and Finland. Finland did not fare very well in the tournament at all, was eliminated in the group stage and shared last place with Uruguay with the same number of points. In fact, when they met, they reached a paltry 1-1 tie. Germany was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Canada. The U-17 team from Spain, on the other hand, dazzled with their deep technical skills, fitness, and rewarded us with GOALS!! Unquestionably, they were the right team to become the champions. My understanding is that Spain has a solid and ambitious program that combines physical and technical training, which are key to enhance the chances of women’s soccer commercial viability. I would be very happy to attend any game of this team and delight myself with the technical skills of some of its players, including Claudia Pina. I live in Washington and I have not been motivated to attend any of NWSL’ s games and observe the local team, Washington Spirit, precisely because I do not find it attractive. In the words of the recently appointed new coach of Washington Spirit, Richie Burke, the women’s game has become too aggressive and brutish, less interested in playing soccer and more inclined to results-oriented type of mentality. He is hoping to change the state of affairs and make it stylish and attractive to the eye even in defeat. I can’t wait to see the results of his vision and then I will be willing to support them by purchasing my tickets.

    Three South American teams attended the U-17 FIFA tournament, including the host country Uruguay, Brazil, and Colombia. None of these teams made it through the stage group. A North American team, not the US, but Mexico, made it to the final though. The Mexican team offers an interesting example to analyze because a considerable number of its players study and play in the formidable system of college soccer in the U.S. and some in Europe. Isn’t that interesting? The U-17 team of the U.S. cannot make it through the group stage, yet the Mexican team, some of whose players study and play in the U.S., make it to the final. I would like to submit a hypothesis for this apparent riddle and it is very simple: even though the U.S. college soccer system does have resources and offers the right infrastructure, it lacks the right technical direction and mainly prepares players in the physical endurance aspect of the game. Mexican players who are physically prepared in the U.S., when invited by the Mexican Federation, are ensembled in a savvy and effective technical system. Furthermore, I am convinced that the lack of technical skills in the current Jill Ellis-coached U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team that will be attending the next World Cup in France will be the main culprit for their spectacular defeat. I will elaborate on my analysis of U.S. women’s soccer and my forecast for the 2019 World Cup in another note.

    The article concludes that the way to make South American women soccer thrive is a mystery. I personally believe that the way to make it thrive will depend on a realistic and brutal definition of what we mean by “thrive.” From my perspective, thrive should be understood as part of a gradual process that starts by promoting access to education opportunities, as well as soccer technical training, for promising and talented young women soccer players. Eventually, it might lead to offers from teams in Europe or the USA if professionalization is the objective. I do not know however if the ultimate goal in South America, at this juncture, should be the professionalization of women’s soccer. As I noted earlier, I will attend a soccer game, and pay for the ticket, if I feel that I will enjoy myself with the quality of the game. I would not pay just in order to support women playing soccer. Soccer after is a spectacle, it is a show, it is entertainment, and as a customer I will pay for quality.

    The key for making women’s South American soccer teams to thrive will eventually lie whether is attractive to the eye, in other words, whether embraces the tenants of “The Beautiful Game.” In the meantime, it is wise on the part of women’s to take advantage of programs to enhance their education and their technical skills. After all, if soccer does not pay, they will have a career and a degree to fall on.

    These educational opportunities should be part of a system of incentives for young women that should include educational scholarships, something like the Mexican model I have described above, where the most apt should have the chance to enhance their formal education and technical skills in the United States or in Europe and return to play for their national teams. It will require also a partnership among the governments, FIFA, the private sector, and an organized lobby made up with determined, stubborn, and activist women. Some progress has been made on this front. Peru offers an interesting example of the said partnership with the recently launched pilot program for the first FIFA Girls Academy, under which soccer trainings academies will be set up in four regions of the country with a view to identifying prospective candidates to play with the national soccer team.

    The recent decision by the South American Soccer Federation Conmebol to condition participation of soccer clubs in the 2019 Copa Libertadores on their setting up of female teams, is an interesting step. I do have some reservations in view of the crises that affect many South American soccer clubs, for instance the infamous Argentine clubs that are not paying their players or some of the Peruvian teams that are considering filing bankruptcy. I will take that Conmebol decision with caution. In fact, Izzy reported that the current women’s Copa Libertadores Champions, the Colombian Atletico Huila, did not use the $55,000 prize to reward its female players or even to invest in the female squad, but rather spent the money to settle outstanding debts incurred by its men’s team. I must say that I found this incident bizarre to say the least and it may wind up in a court of justice.

    Consequently, women’s soccer teams in South America should not expect much from their male dominated federations or associations. In this connection, I salute the recent creation in Chile of a parallel organization that represents women’s soccer players, The National Association of Women Football Players (ANJUFF.) That is the way to go. You have to cut the umbilical cord if you are to thrive.

    For women soccer to thrive in South America the voices of an organized lobby of women should be heard particularly in the omnipresent social media. Alliances should be forged with their sisters in Europe and the USA, invitational games could be part of the menu, and most importantly, measured steps should be taken, starting with ensuring access to education and proper technical training for young and talented women.

  2. Gina West 3 years ago

    Another great article @izzy, I admire the player’s perseverance and dedication to continue despite the lack of support and the unfair conditions from their federations. They are paving the way for future generations, it’s just a huge shame that so many players will never have the real chance to reach their full potentials.

  3. Arran_Sutherland 3 years ago

    Really enjoyed reading your article! It’s always interesting to gain some insight into women’s soccer in South America, especially considering the huge potential of some of these teams if their federations actually supported them properly.

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  5. WSU 3 years ago

    Thank you Izzy, you always talk sense. It is such a shame when you see the amount of talent not given the opportunity to reach its true potential.

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