BOGOTA – Colombian female soccer players are suffering financial hardship and calling on officials to clear up doubts surrounding their professional league, whose future is now in limbo during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Even as news reports are now surfacing about protocols for the resumption of the men’s top-flight soccer league’s 2020 Torneo Apertura, there has been no word thus far about when the women’s competition – which had been up in the air prior to the coronavirus crisis – will be played.
“There are a lot of players who live from soccer, and many families also depend on us working. So I think they can’t brush us aside. We know that when there’s a budget for the men there’s a budget for the women,” Carmen Rodallega, who competed for Colombia at the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, told EFE.
The 36-year-old defender, a member of the Atletico Huila squad that won the Copa Libertadores (the premier South American club championship) title in 2018, is currently taking part in online training sessions organized by her teenage daughter Maria del Carmen’s club, Deportivo Cali Femenino, who are keeping players in shape with exercises involving household items like bricks, water bottles and furniture.
Like most of her fellow competitors in the Andean nation women’s soccer league, she was on the verge of signing a new contract when a nationwide lockdown was imposed in late March to combat the novel coronavirus, a stroke of bad luck that means she is not currently receiving any salary.
“We weren’t able to train or go to club headquarters to sign the contract. It was tough because we knew that if we’d signed, we’d better off. But it’s something that happened. We had to accept it, and we hope that when we can resume training, we’ll be able to sign,” said Rodallega, who also represented her country at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The mother and daughter soccer duo are going through a rough patch, not having any other source of income. The assistance they have received from Deportivo Cali and the Sarmiento Lora soccer academy is enabling them to buy groceries, while family members also are helping them make ends meet.
“I know that many players are perhaps in a more critical situation,” Rodallega said, alluding to less established athletes who earn the minimum salary of just 877,803 pesos ($230) a month. “And this is on all of us. It’s not only the female players who have been affected, but also the people who are part of the soccer scene, like academy coaches who must be badly affected.”
Meanwhile, the sports director of Colombian men’s soccer club Independiente Medellin, Juan Bernardo Valencia, said a new contract has already been prepared with its female soccer team – Formas Intimas – but that the situation remains up in the air because the Dimayor organization that organizes Colombia’s soccer leagues has not yet made a decision on the current women’s season.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about when we’ll be playing, how we’ll be playing, what will happen with our contracts, our salaries, if they’ll go down, stay the same or go up,” goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda, Rodallega’s teammate at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, told EFE.
“We’re just waiting, training at home with the hope that in September or December the league (matches) can be played,” said the veteran netminder, who played for Formas Intimas in 2019 but is not currently affiliated with any team because of the disruptions brought about by the coronavirus.
Colombia’s professional women’s soccer league began in 2017 and has struggled to gain a foothold in a country where men’s soccer towers over the sporting landscape.
It started to gain some momentum in 2019, a year in which allegations of sexual abuse and harassment of players on Colombia’s women’s U-17 national squad caused outrage in the Andean nation and members of the senior women’s team complained of discrimination.
But, even so, doubts about the league’s continued viability remained at the start of 2020.
Sepulveda said the struggle to forge a career in women’s soccer is much more difficult than it is for men.
“If they’ve had to fight and it’s been tough for them, we’ve had it twice as hard. They don’t know how difficult it’s been for us,” she said.