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 and discrimination. A fight which the Chile 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
Football starts at home with a fanatic football family, kicking the ball in the house at the mother’s expense, dribbling in the garden, one-twos with family members. The love is immediate and it was just that which carved the future of Romina Parraguire.
“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 blurred 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 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. Which makes winning the Copa America 2018 vital to secure automatic World Cup qualification.
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.”
The maltreatment from the ANFP was not just a one-off as in past years failure to have a proper training camp led to poor results. “A few years ago we got into the international break only two months out of a Copa America which led to a bad preparation in camp and bad preparation technically, physically and tactically,” Parraguirre said.
There is only so much the human body can take until it breaks
The maltreatment endured is enough for the reader to be outraged by what the women’s national has received in the past three years but compared to the player going through it, does not compare which is why Romina made the toughest decision a player could make, retire.
“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 plagued by the maltreatment that football got in Chile,” Parraguirre said. In an example of the maltreatment, Romina described the itinerary of an away match with the national team:
“When we had to travel 12 hours, we had to get off the bus, played the match and straight after we were on the bus again to return home and there a more similar situations like this.”
There is no doubt the mental and physical toll reached its peak as a 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 decided to take the fight to the top. As the team dropped from 41st in the world to 128th, the ANFP did not arrange training nor games for the national team, Iona Rothfeld set up a women’s players association, a group Romina Parraguirre is proud to be apart of.
“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.
Dialogue has never been better as Ioana Rothfeld says, “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 that the proposals and changes were received well with 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 NSW National Premier League division with North Sydney’s NSW Koalas FC.
In 2017 Romina Parraguirre finds herself at her happiest as she finished a champion with Chile giants Colo Colo with who reached the final of South America’s biggest competition, Copa Libertadores. Sadly, Romina and her side lost the final on penalties but believes reaching the final meant more than just football, “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 facing a strong France team losing 1-0 then twice against rivals Argentina finished 2-2 and finally a rampant 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 there are no television channels who 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 when at its peak was watched by 7,000 people.
“That exact mentality 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 we can win, work 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.