SANTIAGO – Despite two losses against Sweden (0-2) and the United States (0-3), La Roja Femenina should already be proud of their accomplishments this year. They finished their World Championships campaign tonight with a victory over Thailand but didn’t qualify for the next round. The real fight of the Chilean women took place outside of the pitch.
For the Chilean female squad, it is the first time they are participating in the World Championships. The winners of the last Copa América edition likely imagined a stronger start, but whatever might be the outcome of this tournament, they are more popular than ever in their home country and that has lots to do with where they came from.
Just three years ago, the world looked very different for the Chilean women.
From Inactive To World Cup Players
FIFA declared the team “inactive” and removed them from the official FIFA rankings for not having played an official match in over two years. The women read the news online and decided it was time to take matters into their own hands. The Chilean female squad founded the National Association of Women Football Players (ANJUFF) after feeling neglected by the Chilean soccer foundation.
The Chilean women weren’t alone in their fight. About the same time their squad was declared inactive, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay had the same status in the FIFA rankings. The inequality they had to fight against was huge, especially at the club level: female players were asked to pay their own transfer fees and travel costs when going to another club. According to an article in VICE from 2016, the Chilean women didn’t even know who their coach was.
So, after founding their own soccer association, the real fight for recognition began. Seeking opponents for the national team, seeking sponsors to help develop female soccer at the club level and, most importantly, fighting the prejudices in the macho culture that encircles soccer, especially in South America.
The 2018 Copa América Femenina played an important role in the development of female soccer in Chile. Organized in Chile, the women ended second, were received at La Moneda palace by President Piñera, and, as they qualified for the World Cup 2019 in France, their faces become well-known—also thanks to strong commercial campaigns.
President Piñera received the women at the presidential palace:
Endler: A Role Model
Christiane Endler, the 22-year-old goalkeeper from Paris St. Germain, has played an important role in the current success of La Roja Femenina.
Her epic performances during the first two matches at the World Cup against Sweden and the United States were picked up by international media, who called her “a keeper who is opening doors for other women” (CNN), and “a statement for Chilean women’s soccer” (SBN). Even The New York Times praised the goalkeeper.
In an interview with SBN, Endler expressed her hopes that the World Cup would help open eyes in her home country. “I think it’s really important that in Chile, the clubs get involved with women’s football […] It’s hard to be dedicated 100 percent to football. So, when you come [to the World Cup], you notice the difference is too much.”
Endler is aware of her position as role model. On Chilean television, in advertisements, on covers of magazines: Christiane Endler is there to represent female soccer. Also, outside the pitch, the young goalkeeper tries to promote the sport. In Chile, she has opened three all-female soccer academies to give girls the same possibilities Chilean boys have.
Despite the United States victory, Christiane Endler was chosen “Player of the Match”:
Still a Long Way to Go
Despite the positive developments, the Chilean squad still has a long way to go. Fernanda Pinilla, part of the Chilean squad at the World Cup in France, highlighted the situation around Chilean female soccer in an interview with ESPN, especially at the club level, which is run on an amateur basis, meaning that players can’t dedicate themselves fulltime to the sport and have to work or study in addition to their club obligations.
“Football here is a sport for men. We live almost as rebels due to this mentality in Chile that there are certain things that men do and certain things that women do. I don’t have the same training conditions as a male player, which for me amounts to discrimination. The worst equipment and most inconvenient training times are reserved for women. A lot of women’s teams don’t have a medical team working with them, looking after them. These are all forms of discrimination against female players in Chile,” Pinilla said in the interview.
For the Chilean women, the current developments in their sport offer perspectives, but they are aware that the squad’s real fight doesn’t take place on the pitch.
Chile did what they could at the World Cup. They lost against countries that put more money and effort in the development of female soccer (Sweden and the United States) and beat Thailand. Not enough to qualify for the next round, but Chileans, soccer fans or not, are proud of La Roja Femenina.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.