Female soccer players in Colombia denounce discrimination
By ANNE M. PETERSON
Two players for the Colombian women's national team are speaking out on social media about what they say are substandard conditions and discriminatory treatment by the federation.
Isabella Echeverri and Melissa Ortiz say they hope to raise awareness in Colombia and improve the national team for future generations.
"We feel threatened. The do not pay us," they said in a video posted to Instagram. "There's no international flights. The uniforms are old. The federation has cut off players for speaking up."
They added: "We're not afraid anymore. We're here to speak up."
The federation did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the accusations. Colombia's national team did not make the field for the Women's World Cup this year.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Ortiz said she and Echeverri realize that the consequences of speaking out mean they likely won't rejoin the national team in the future.
"I think all of us have always wanted to say something. Personally I have, and Isabella, too. But we've always been scared because God forbid you say something, you're going to be crossed off the World Cup or Olympic roster," Ortiz said. "Unfortunately, we didn't say anything when we had the platform and the attention on us, like when we were in the World Cup. But it came to a point with us where it was, `If not us, who?' and `If not now, when?'"
Ortiz, 28, played her last match for the national team in 2016 and she was an alternate for the team at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She essentially walked away from the team last year.
Ortiz and Echeverri want to reduce the long periods between each season and be paid enough to live off their wages. Ortiz said that the team went without matches or training camp for over 700 days following the 2012 London Olympics, and more than 400 days following the Rio Games.
Ortiz said the team also cut off payments for players in camp and no longer paid for the flights to get the players to and from training in Colombia. Players previously made the equivalent of $20 a day in camp.
After the team fared poorly in a tournament last summer, the two players explored taking action. And now, a few months away from the Pan American Games, the team has no coach, Ortiz said.
"We have been inspired by a whole bunch of different things that had a snowball effect and made us want to speak out," Ortiz told the AP.
She said the two chose social media because of its reach.
"This is just a small example of how other national teams that are fighting the same fight but can't find their voice, this is a way we want to show there is a way to have a voice," she said. "But you have to be very brave in making the decision to do it."
Some advances in women's soccer have been attempted by Colombia in recent years. The nation has even expressed interest in hosting the 2023 Women's World Cup.
In 2017, the federation and professional league Dimayor started a women's pro league in Colombia that is set to play its third season this year.
Millonarios and Sergio Arboleda University are starting a women's team next season. The players who join the new club will have stipends, but wages will still be low.
But there have also been setbacks.
Last month the owner of Deportes Tolima, Gabriel Camargo, said women's soccer in Colombia is a "breeding ground for lesbianism" and accused female players of not behaving professionally and drinking too much alcohol.
Camargo later apologized.
"I told (Ortiz) that things can get even worse," Echeverri said, "and that it's time that somebody stood up and told the truth about the women's national team in Colombia."
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Updated February 19, 2019