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On International Women’s Day, the Plight of Argentina’s Female Soccer Players Gains Visibility

Athletes are protesting systemic discrimination and low wages.

By | [email protected] | March 8, 2019 4:14pm

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Today at the International Women’s Day march, you just might see a few soccer jerseys among the sea of pañuelos verdes. Every year on March 8th women’s organizations across Argentina (and beyond) organize to protest the systemic discrimination of women nationwide. And as thousands of women march toward Congress this afternoon, there will be a few fighting for one specific cause at the heart of Argentine culture: soccer.

In an initiative from the Female Association of Football Argentina (AFFAR), female soccer players and their supporters are sporting player’s jerseys at the women’s march. “The idea [to wear the jerseys to the march] arose because we saw that this is a good opportunity to give visibility to the struggle we have as women in football,” said AFFAR president Evelina Cabrera. “Having the jersey implies that you are very close to football. The jersey represents our commitment to the team.”

The tweet above comes from the association’s Twitter handle and reads: “Here, it doesn’t matter what the colors are, only our struggle.”  This comes amidst a wave of support for female football players, from the labor conflict and resignation of Macarena ‘Maca’ Sanchez, to the new book La Pelota de Papel 3, written by 29 current and former football players in Argentina.

Despite there being a fantastic and loyal fanbase for Argentina’s male soccer teams (come on, we all know a guy with a River Plate or Boca tattoo), women’s soccer in Argentina has seriously struggled to find the same mainstream audience. While many might assume that there must be a women’s league by default, the truth is it is not at all well-known in the cultural lexicon. In 1991, a group of women’s clubs was finally inducted for the first time into the Argentine Football Association (AFA).

Female soccer players in Argentina face discrimination in their profession at every turn, given the world of football is masculine and full of machista culture. In fact, while male players like Messi and Di Maria enjoy god-like status in this country, female athletes aren’t even paid a living wage. Earlier this year, the aforementioned Maca Sanchez was involved in a labor conflict where she expressed her discontent about the lack of pay from the AFA being unjust and unfair to herself and other women whose full time jobs are playing the sport.

Maca Sánchez (Photo via El Siglo de Torreón)

Unfortunately, after the labor dispute, Sanchez left her club, Club UAI Uruquiza, and posted very publicly on Twitter and Instagram, citing her displeasure with the outcome of the conflict. As a result she received online harassment and death threats from aggravated soccer fanatics. On the lack of pay, Sanchez said to La Izquierda Diario “We don’t have a written agreement. When we started the tournament, we all signed the registration for a year, but that isn’t a contract.”

The same happens in many countries across South America, but in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Chile women have all signed salaried contracts to play. It’s fascinating, but also a long time coming to see a rise of asking for fair pay coming from women here in Argentina. Since 1998, there’s been a steady decline in the number of teams in the AFA, apparently due to lack of interest.

‘La selección femenina de fútbol’, a women’s team in the AFA wins 4-0 against Panamá

And as a result, many women have left Argentina to play in countries that will pay them. A good example is Estefania Banini that now plays in Maryland (United States) for the Washington Spirit. As she succinctly put it recently to La Nación: “We [female soccer players] aren’t mad, but we’re a bit tired of what’s happening in Argentina, not in la selección or in the clubs, but the whole country has this prejudice against women’s football. We need a change in mentality: football is also for women and society needs to understand that.”

So where does that leave us? This International Women’s Day, consider supporting the women fighting for their right to play Argentina’s national sport. One of the most important issues here is our own complicity. If we come out to their games, wear their jerseys, and speak loudly about women’s sport, the AFA will take note, and act accordingly. Currently, the 41st tournament of the women’s First Division of the AFA is happening in Buenos Aires, where you can see for yourself the hard work women are putting into their craft.

In the same way the women’s march has made waves of societal change elsewhere, change will come for women’s football players. President of the AFFAR Evelina Cabrera puts it best, saying to Olé“[Across women’s teams] our fight is the same. We all want visibility and recognition. We want to have the rights that correspond to us in this sport.” And isn’t that what March 8th is all about? It’s for women fighting for their right to exist unapologetically and without compromise, and Argentina’s female football players are an excellent example of that.