In Ar­gentina, Messi earns mil­lions, women play for pit­tance and pride

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - HTSPORTSMAX - Associated Press sports­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

NO LEVEL-PLAY­ING FIELD While men’s foot­ball turned pro nearly 90 years back, women play as am­a­teurs with stipend as lit­tle as $10

BUENOS AIRES: Al­most 90 years after men’s soccer turned pro­fes­sional in Ar­gentina, the women’s game is still be­ing played by am­a­teur ath­letes who get lit­tle to no money for their work on the field. Macarena Sanchez wants to change that — now.

The 27-year-old Sanchez is tak­ing le­gal ac­tion against her club and the Ar­gen­tine soccer as­so­ci­a­tion in an ef­fort to gain pro­fes­sional sta­tus. The case could set a prece­dent in a na­tion that is home to Lionel Messi and some of the world’s great­est play­ers, but where soccer is still largely seen as a men’s only game.

“The goal is to be recog­nised as a pro­fes­sional soccer player, so it can open the doors for other women to en­joy the ben­e­fits of earn­ing a liv­ing from what we love,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez’s in­tro­duc­tion to soccer came when she was 5, watch­ing her fa­ther play with friends on week­ends in the province of Santa Fe, the birth­place of Messi, Gabriel Batis­tuta and Jorge Val­dano. With her fa­ther’s en­cour­age­ment, she pol­ished her skills at a lo­cal club.

Dur­ing a friendly game in Buenos Aires in 2012, the coach of UAI Urquiza asked her to join his club, con­sid­ered one of the best in South Amer­ica. “That year, we won the Ar­gen­tine cham­pi­onship for the first time in the club’s his­tory,” she said. “And then we won the cham­pi­onship three more times.” Sanchez also com­peted in three Copa Lib­er­ta­dores tour­na­ments, the pre­mier women’s event in the South Amer­i­can re­gion. But on Jan 5, she got a call from her coach — one she didn’t ex­pect. Sanchez said he didn’t pro­vide any specifics, he just said she was be­ing let go be­cause of a “soccer-re­lated de­ci­sion.”

LE­GAL AC­TION

For years, Sanchez had re­ceived a small stipend and worked an ad­min­is­tra­tive job at UAI Urquiza. The news that she was no longer wel­come came mid-sea- son, so she wasn’t able to join an­other club. After con­sult­ing with her sis­ter, who is an at­tor­ney, she de­cided to launch her com­plaint seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion and the pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of women’s soccer.

“It’s not easy to be the first woman to launch le­gal ac­tion against the Ar­gen­tine soccer fed­er­a­tion,” Sanchez said. “I’ve had to carry a heavy bur­den, but the col­lec­tive goal won. It won be­cause I want to see many girls who in the fu­ture can en­joy be­ing pro­fes­sional. That’s my dream.”

Of­fi­cials at UAI Urquiza de­clined to com­ment, and the in­terim head of the Ar­gen­tine fed­er­a­tion’s women’s soccer com­mit­tee could not im­me­di­ately be reached. Sanchez has, how­ever, re­ceived strong sup­port from FIFPRO, an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents pro­fes­sional soccer play­ers around the world.

“Macarena is part of a gen­er­a­tion of lead­ing women play­ers in South Amer­ica who are fed up with re­ceiv­ing de­risory treat­ment,” FIFPRO said in a state­ment to the AP.

“It’s un­ac­cept­able for soccer clubs and na­tional soccer fed­er­a­tions in South Amer­ica, or any­where else, to treat women play­ers as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens with vastly in­fe­rior con­di­tions to male play­ers.”

Ar­gentina’s women’s na­tional team re­cently qual­i­fied for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. Sanchez is not likely make the team that is headed to France, and the le­gal ac­tion does not in­volve the na­tional team.

MEA­GRE STIPEND

But even the na­tional team’s play­ers have strug­gled fi­nan­cially. They went on strike in 2017 after their stipends of about $10 went un­paid. They also lack proper chang­ing rooms, for a while they trained on a dirt field, and they are of­ten forced to travel long dis­tances to play a game and re­turn on the same day to save on ho­tel costs.

The fe­male play­ers were also an­gered when Adi­das, the brand that spon­sors a few mem­bers of the na­tional teams of both gen­ders, un­veiled the new shirt for last year’s Women’s Copa Amer­ica with models rather than play­ers. And while the men’s Ar­gen­tine league draws big crowds and makes mil­lions of dol­lars, a woman at a top club is of­ten forced to split her time be­tween soccer and a sec­ond job to sur­vive. Brenda Elsey, a pro­fes­sor at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity who spe­cialises in the his­tory of soccer pol­i­tics in Latin Amer­ica said, “I don’t think any Ar­gen­tine player in 1931 (when soccer be­came pro­fes­sional in the coun­try) felt the same kind of hos­til­ity and ne­glect as women play­ers feel to­day.”

Elsey has a photo of women play­ing soccer dat­ing back as far as 1923, pointed to a re­cent ex­am­ple. When Es­tu­di­antes won the league ti­tle, she said the Ar­gen­tine soccer fed­er­a­tion for­got to give them the tro­phy.

The play­ers tried to take in stride, and they cel­e­brated with a plas­tic jug.

The story didn’t come as a shock. “Ar­gentina is not an ex­cep­tion to the rule of gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion in Latin Amer­ica. It’s ac­tu­ally quite com­mon,” said Elsey, who is also-co-au­thor of “Fut­bol­era: A His­tory of Women and Sports in Latin Amer­ica.”

In neigh­bor­ing Chile, an­other World Cup qual­i­fier headed to France this year, soccer is also am­a­teur. Coaches have com- plained that men’s clubs af­fil­i­ated with fe­male teams some­times won’t even lend their coun­ter­parts fields for prac­tice and only sup­ply them with one set of shirts.

In­stead, many top fe­male play­ers head to the United States to play in the NWSL and get paid, while Brazil, Mex­ico and Colom­bia are among re­gional coun­tries that have pro­fes­sional leagues. But there is still prej­u­dice, and ig­no­rance, to over­come..

A group of women known as the Pi­o­neers of Ar­gen­tine Fe­male Soccer re­cently met at a field in Buenos Aires to kick around the ball and share mem­o­ries about the chal­lenges they faced play­ing the sport they love. A team of young men clapped when the women be­gan to drib­ble, jug­gle and shoot at goal.

“Some peo­ple would shout at us to go wash dishes,” said Elba Selva, who scored four goals in Ar­gentina’s 4-1 vic­tory over Eng­land at the Azteca Sta­dium in Mex­ico City dur­ing the 1971 World Cup. “We’re so proud to be a part of this now.”

AP

(Far left) A 12-year-old looks long­ingly into a foot­ball ground. (Top) Macarena Sanchez is lead­ing a cam­paign to get recog­ni­tion for women’s foot­ball. (Left) Elba Selva, a mem­ber of the 1971 Ar­gentina World Cup team, says “peo­ple shouted at us to go wash dishes while we played”.

GETTY

Liverpool’s Mo­hamed Salah on way to scor­ing the team’s third goal against Bournemouth at An­field on Satur­day.

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