In the last five years, Latin American women’s football has made significant progress in increasing fan bases and media interest at club and national team levels. In 2016 most of CONMEBOL’s national sides, including the traditional powerhouses of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, were relegated to inactive status as a result of not playing matches for over 18 months.
Since then women’s football in the region has seen a revival. Three of the formerly inactive teams competed in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and professional leagues in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico have begun to capture public interest and financial support.
While the progress made in the region has been remarkable, it has also faced obstacles. At both club and federation level, players have reported serious cases of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and, in the most serious cases, sexual assault.
In Latin America, only a minority of women in professional leagues have formal contracts and nearly all players work at least one extra job to make ends meet. Average contracts last two to three months and pay rarely exceeds minimum wage levels.
Now as the continent fights off the Coronavirus decisions being made by owners and administrators show that Fútbol Femenino is being given a low priority and in some cases seen as expendable.
A recent report by international players union FIFPRO spoke of an “existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry”.
In Latin America evidence of this threat already exists. Fare has followed several developments in recent weeks in which the actions of clubs and FAs have created confusion among footballers in regard to salaries, schedules, and priorities. Since April 1, we have noted:
COLOMBIA: In an open letter on April 12, Colombian footballers outlined their fears that women have not been included in the federation or the professional league’s future plans for the return of football. According to Equidad player and Colombian international, Vanessa Córdoba, “The uncertainty is not because of the Coronavirus, it has become our constant in women’s football and we think that’s wrong.”
Only 2 of 18 Colombian clubs have committed to pay women players during the pre-season. Across the league only a minority of women players have a contract at all (around 5 in each team), and these contracts have a duration of only two months at a time with monthly salaries amounting to around $250.
Club Independiente Santa Fe suspended its women’s contracts, but has maintained their male players at 50% of salary. After interventions from the government and media pressure, the club agreed to pay women half their salary, but their contracts remain suspended.
PARAGUAY: The Asociación Paraguaya de Fútbol released a letter on April 15, stating that women’s football, futsal, and beach football would be suspended indefinitely. Men’s football, however, has not been.
PERÚ: On April 25, Club Universitario de Deportes announced it was “deactivating” its women’s team, recent national champions, because of financial hardship. However, its men’s team has been left intact.
BRAZIL: After the federation pledged to help sustain women’s leagues, players for Club Audax were assured they would receive their salaries. However, once Audax received relief funds from the FA, the directors decided to use the money for other purposes. The women’s team have not been paid their contract and, when asked, Audax representatives, said that they were not required to sign anything related to their women’s side.
At the confederation level, CONMEBOL has discussed changes in regulations and possible financial help to members. Its requirement that teams participating in the Copa Libertadores field both a men’s and women’s team has not been explicitly discussed.
The cost of maintaining women’s sides in Latin America is negligible and players are most vulnerable to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Brenda Elsey, the development lead for the Fare network in the Americas, said, “Women footballers represent the most vulnerable of this sport’s community, we cannot allow women’s football in the region to become jeopardized by this crisis.
“To sustain women’s football will require prioritizing their return to training and competition. It is of the utmost importance that funding commitments and promises that have been made not only remain in place, but are expanded in a way that recognizes the precarity and ongoing sexism the players face.”