Buenos Aires ( Associated Press) – The women’s Copa America soccer tournament in Colombia begins Friday at a time when the sport is clearly evolving in South America but at a vastly different pace and opportunities for players.
The ten teams are divided into two groups, with two countries advancing to the knockout stage from each group. The final will take place on July 30 at the Alfonso López Stadium in Bucaramanga, Colombia.
Defending champions Brazil has developed a women’s football organization on its own. Elsewhere, most players in the region have struggled to obtain professional contracts and even when they do, there remains a huge margin compared to the money paid to men’s teams and their players.
Four years ago at the women’s Copa America in Chile, veteran goalkeeper Vanina Correa, along with other players from the Argentina national team, organized a protest. As they gathered for a pre-match photo, they made a pose with their hands behind their right ears, a sign of protest and showing they wanted to be heard by the Soccer Federation of Argentina.
“Many things have changed, they have listened to us,” Correa said after training with Argentina at the Eziza complex outside Buenos Aires, where football superstar Lionel Messi has also trained on national duty.
At the tournament in Colombia, Argentina hopes to secure one of the three direct places available for the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 2023.
A lot has changed in the game. Young female footballers in Argentina have achieved a minimum wage. Players such as 38-year-old Korea faced a highly hostile and sexist environment for most of their careers, with women often criticized for wanting to play only football. There were no locker rooms or kits for the teams in the clubs. Signing the contract was only a dream.
“We always believe we can add a lot of other things, but we achieve our objectives and then ask for something extra,” Correa said.
The Confederation of South American Football (CONMEBOL) stated that the winner of the tournament, which was first played in 1991, would earn a record $1.5 million. From this edition, the tournament will be played once every two years.
“Women’s football has a short trajectory in South America, only 31 years, we are working to speed up our processes,” said Fabimar Franchi, who manages the development division for women’s football at CONMEBOL. “It will be a historic Copa America, a different one, and you will see that on and off the pitch. Preparation, show, organization. Women’s football continues to grow. ,
This year, Argentina introduced a system of licensing for women’s football clubs that requires them to have two women in their coaching staff, pay for players’ health insurance, provide training grounds and social media profiles, As well as a protocol for dealing with situations of violence. and discrimination.
2018 runners-up Chile, whose captain Cristian Endler recently won the Women’s Champions League with Lyon, started their professional league this year.
“Great work at the national team level, but we still need more in local tournaments, not enough has been done,” Endler said. “The commercialization of women’s football is a great step, no doubt, but it is important that clubs do more.”
According to Chilean rules, clubs are required to award contracts to half their players in the first year, then 75% in the second year and 100% in the third year.
In Colombia, women’s football is also professional but the season is short and the players have no income for months. But fans are clearly interested, with nearly 40,000 watching the latest Colombian championship between Deportivo Cali and América Cali.
CONMEBOL has organized youth division tournament for women since 2018. Men’s clubs wishing to participate in the prestigious Copa Libertadores must have two categories of women’s teams – senior and youth.
“Some of these players are already professionals at the age of 17 and 18. The girls who have found new opportunities will be in the women’s Copa America,” said Franchi.
Brazil has led the field in the development of women’s football, even more so in 2019 with its own football body requiring that each club in the men’s Brazilian championship must also have a women’s team.
Teams from Corinthians and Ferroviaria have won continental and national championships in recent years – with occasional crowds of over 40,000 fans. Other large clubs such as Palmeiras and Flamengo have also invested in women’s football.
The Brazilian Football Confederation paid $54,000 to the Corinthians women’s team to win their third consecutive Brazilian title in 2021 – less than 1% of the amount received by men’s champions Atlético Mineiro. Media reports from Brazil earlier this year said the monthly payroll of the Corinthians women’s team is around $73,000, while the men’s team tops out at $2.7 million.
Brazilian football bodies have stated that most of the country’s professional female football players are paid about $920 a month, the same as five years ago, although some benefits have improved and fan interest is increasing.
All of this is still far from women’s soccer powerhouses such as the United States and Spain, but many South American women’s footballers say progress is possible.
“The sponsors, the media, the people have to be interested in going to the stadium to watch women’s football,” said Argentine defender Aldana Cometti. “When that happens, everyone will grow.”
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