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SPORTS | 17-07-2023 17:34

'Girls with balls' still sidelined in Argentine football

In Argentina, a country obsessed with football and the proud holder of three World Cup titles, women have yet to be fully welcomed into the beautiful game.

In Argentina, a country obsessed with football and the proud holder of three World Cup titles, women have yet to be fully welcomed into the beautiful game.

With some recent social advances for women in the overwhelmingly Catholic South American country – with elective abortion legalised in 2020 – the game of Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona has slowly started to open up too.

But progress has been slow.

It was only four years ago, in 2019, that Argentine women's football was declared semi-professional – meaning players can make a partial living off the sport. It is not yet a career.

"We suffer abuses and our rights are not respected," says the Pibas con Pelotas ("Girls with Balls") organisation of players and coaches fighting for equal treatment.

With little money for women's football, "we continue to wear the clothing left over from male football and we do not have physical space or equipment for training," it states on its website.

The association points out that most clubs do not have lower-level teams where talent can be spotted and developed, and there are few opportunities for girls to play at school.

"We do not have medical coverage for injuries, nor do we have professional contracts," states the group.

As the Argentine national team prepares for the FIFA World Cup starting in New Zealand and Australia later this month, players still face an uphill battle.

 

'Invisible'

Camila Gómez Ares, a former Boca Juniors midfielder, recently told a conference at a school for sports journalism that women's club players do not earn enough to train every day.

"If you get up at 6am in the morning and work all day, you cannot be a professional," she said. She now plays football at the University of Concepción in Chile.

Another former Boca player Julia Paz Dupuy said "nobody came to see" her team play in Argentina.

"We played on synthetic grass pitches," not the real grass reserved for male games. "The clothes were big, huge," Dupuy told the same conference.

Like many others unable to make it in the male-dominated sphere, she now makes money playing futsal, a football-inspired indoors court game, in Spain.

Few in the country may even know that the first women's match in Argentina was played 100 years ago this year.

Or that the women's team was the first to beat England in a World Cup match, unofficial though it was and in the group stages, before 100,000 spectators in 1971.

It happened in the same stadium in Mexico where 15 years later football legend Diego Maradona would score his famous but controversial "hand of God" goal against England.

All four of the Argentina women's goals in Mexico were scored by Elba Selva, now 75.

"In Mexico, I was celebrated, but when we arrived [home] there was no one to greet us, nobody knew anything," she told AFP.

The women were "invisible" and widely criticized for being "varoneras" or manlike, according to Ayelen Pujol, a former football player, feminist and writer.

Argentina's women have played in only three of the eight official World Cups since 1991 – in 2003, 2007 and 2019. They have never made it through the group stages or even won a single match.

Their best World Cup showing so far was to come from 3-0 down to draw with Scotland 3-3 in 2019.

In 2006, Argentina won the South American Women's Championship with a 2-0 victory over Brazil -- their biggest achievement so far.

"We want to get through the group phase. The goal is to win a game... So that's what we're working for," goalkeeper Vanina Correa said ahead of the team's latest World Cup campaign.

 

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by Daniel Merolla, AFP

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