It all begins with a dream which in most circumstances end up not being a reality. It is that exact thought which haunts girls today in Chile and around the world to one day play football professionally. Women’s football is in the middle of a fight for equality, respect. A fight which Chile’s women’s national team know all too well.
I interviewed Chile’s goalkeeper and former Colo Colo goalkeeper Romina Parraguire in Sydney to talk about what she has been through while playing football in Chile, her low points, her triumphs, Copa America 2018 and the fight which went to FIFPro (International Federation of Professional Footballers) and why she finds herself in sunny Sydney, Australia.
It was love at first sight
In most cases football starts at home by kicking the ball in the house at the mother’s expense, dribbling in the garden, one-twos with family members or a wall. The love was immediate for Romina Parraguirre. That love she felt unconsciously as a little girl paved the way for a future she thought was out of her reach.
“Ever since I was young I was close to my male cousins and they’re football fanatics. They started to take me to the stadium and play with me,” Parraguirre said. However, it was not until Romina was able to play in a team that, “they saw that I had options to play in a team they supported me from the get go and until today.”
In saying that, her young football journey was cast with doubt by the man who loves her the most, her father, “at the beginning it was tough for my dad as he really wasn’t happy on the idea but slowly he began involving himself and today he’s one of my biggest fans.”
“When we didn’t qualify (World Cup) it was a huge demotivation”
The National Team
The Women’s national team has never qualified for a World Cup but have come close in 1991, 1995, 2001 and 2011 but it all changed as Chile failed again to qualify for the 2015 World Cup in Canada. The failure of missing out three years ago all but forgotten as in 2018 Chile secured to host the Copa America next year. A victory or a second place finish in the competition secures their golden ticket to the Women’s World Cup, 2019 in France.
In a weird sense of intuition Romina knew that from the moment of not qualifying it would be a downward spiral for the team: “We knew that there would not be any processes for the national team.” Moreover, what they did not expect was having to wait 730 days to be reunited with the squad. Why it came to that you ask? according to Romina the level of football is good but as always, “it could be better.”
Athletes are familiar with the thought that what you do and how hard you work on the training field reflects your performance on the field however, Romina remembered, “A few years ago we got into the international break only two months out of the Copa America which led to a bad preparation in camp and bad preparation technically, physically and tactically,” Parraguirre said.
In an example of unjust treatment, Romina described the itinerary of an away match with the national team:
“We had to travel 12 hours, we had to get off the bus, play the match and straight after we were on the bus again to return home and there a more similar situations like this.”
There is only so much the human body can take until it breaks
The maltreatment faced by the Chilean National Team is enough for the reader to be outraged by what the squad has been through in the past three years but compared to the player going through it, does not compare. Romina made the toughest decision an athlete could make, retire at the ripe age of 25.
“I was unmotivated to play. I gave priority to university and to what was doing well for me”
“I made that decision because women’s football in Chile had me angry and tired and I could not continue fighting the maltreatment”, Romina said.
There is no doubt the mental and physical toll reached its breaking point 25-year-old Parraguirre was “unmotivated” and it called it quits: “I was unmotivated to play. I gave priority to university and to what was doing well for me.”
It’s time for respect and change
After the Chilean football federation deserted the national team, one woman accompanied by team mates and friends from university came together and decided to take the fight to the top. As Chile dropped from 41 in FIFA’s Rankings to 128, the ANFP did not arrange training nor games for the national team, Iona Rothfeld took action by setting up a women’s players association, ANJUFF (Asociación Nacional Jugadoras de Fútbol) who defend the rights of female footballers in Chile and promote the development of women’s football. Romina makes up the core of this historic association.
“With ANJUFF (Asociacion Nacional Jugadoras de Futbol Femenino) the idea was to help to elevate women’s football and help the players which is our number one priority,” she said.
After the creation of the association it opened up for the first time dialogue with the Chilean FA, dialogue in which Ioana believes has never been better:, “We have advanced more than we expected,” Rothfeld said. “We have a direct communication with ANFP, which aims to make women’s football more visible.” in an interview with FIFPro back in September describes the proposals and changes were well received by the ANFP, “The proposals were received very well. The ANFP included some in its new women’s football development program,” Rothfeld said.
A new dawn, a new day
Today Romina Parraguirre finds herself in Sydney’s sunny Bondi where she has, “hunger to learn from Australian football.” The decision to fly over 11,000km was a no brainer for this talented goalkeeper who views women’s football in Australia as “much stronger than in Chile.” What made her come to this decision were money offers as she accepted to play in the NSW National Premier League division with North Sydney’s NSW Koalas FC.
In 2017 Romina Parraguirre finds herself at her happiest as she finished with a Championship playing for Chile giants Colo-Colo in Chile’s women’s non-professional league, with who she reached the final of South America’s biggest competition, Copa Libertadores. Sadly, Romina and her side lost the final on penalties but she believes reaching the final was groundbreaking as, “this result makes us value women’s football, the players and the sacrifices made to win.”
There is more to look forward to in women’s football in Chile as La Roja host the 2018 Copa America, an event Parraguirre cannot wait to arrive, “it’s a beautiful event to be held and I hope with this competition it can grow women’s football and make them invest in it.”
Chile has been on an impressive run of results in 2017 who faced a strong France team that ended in a 1-0 loss, they then faced rivals Argentina on a two-leg tour drawing 2-2 and recorded a 5-0 victory. Parraguirre describes these results as positive but there is still work to do, “we still have to keep working and not worry about the opposition.”
However, as the competition approaches sadly until this date no television channels have put their hand up to say ‘we will televise the games.’ The latest football friendly against Argentina where Chile won 5-0 was shown on Facebook live. At its peak it recorded an audience of 7,000.
“That exact mentality of fighting for what’s right and playing for the country has been the focus this year and because of that results have gone well for us,” Parraguirre said.
To finish this interview off I asked her how far can this team go to which she said, “I don’t know where but meanwhile if we can win, work hard and get better, believe me that getting far will mean nothing. We want to win it all and it’s not just a dream but a reality.