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Colombian footballers have spoken out about what they say is inferior treatment of the women’s national team by their national football federation.

Melissa Ortiz and Isabella Echeverri have told how the federation -- which does not currently have a women’s national team coach -- have stopped paying for international travel for female players and withheld their daily allowance.

Here the background to the criticism.

What is the stature of the Colombian national women’s team?

It is the top-ranked women’s team in South America after Brazil and considered to be in the top 30 national teams in the world by FIFA.

What sparked these complaints?

Ortiz and Echeverri have been part of the Colombian women’s national team for eight years and five years, respectively. Both women went to college in the United States, where they still live. They were upset when the Colombian football federation decided to withhold each player's USD$20-a-day compensation and stopped paying for flights to Colombia for squad members living abroad.

This followed what they call years of substandard treatment. A week before the 2015 World Cup when Ortiz tore her achilles tendon at a warm-up camp and needed surgery, she found she was not covered by the federation’s medical insurance plan. As soon as she got back to the team hotel a federation official asked her to return USD$700 in allowances for the camp. When she was going to be given an economy-class ticket for a 6-hour flight home, she had to persuade officials to upgrade her to a ticket with more legroom.

Are Ortiz and Echeverri the only ones to complain?

Other Colombian national-team players have joined in the criticism. Tatiana Ariza, a midfielder, has told  how the federation regularly goes years without investing any resources on women’s football in between major tournaments: it did not organize a  national-team training camp for more than 700 days after the 2012 London Olympics and for more than 400 days after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Goalkeeper Catalina Rubiano says she had to pay for her flight from the U.S. to an national-team camp in Cali, Colombia in 2017.

Are such complaints unusual in Colombia?

Yes. The players say Colombian women’s national members have been scared they would be dropped from the World Cup or Olympics squad if they complained about conditions. After one player, Daniela Montoya, told the media she was not paid a USD$3,000 World Cup bonus promised by the federation in 2015 – when Colombia reached the last 16 -- she was not picked again for the national team. The federation eventually paid squad members about USD$2,000 each, Ortiz said.

Why are they complaining now?

With Colombia not qualifying for this year’s World Cup in France, Ortiz and Echeverri feel they have nothing to lose. They want to improve conditions for their peers and empower younger generations of Colombian women football players. Colombian player union Acolfutpro, which is advising women players, says the fact that they are speaking out publicly is an “enormous step.”

What does the federation say?

The federation says it will consider reinstating the daily compensation for women players when they are with the national team but does not have the resources to invest in the women’s national team during periods when there is not major competition. It says, for example, it cannot afford to pay for a permanent women’s national team coach. According to Colombian radio station Caracol, the men’s national team coach Carlos Queiroz earns a salary of USD$3 million per year from the federation.

Does the federation have an obligation to improve conditions?

While world ruling body FIFA has taken steps to encourage national federations to increase spending on women’s national-team football, there are currently no requirements for these federations to run a permanent women’s national-team program or introduce minimum conditions for players. According to FIFA rankings, 27 women’s national teams including Cyprus, Egypt, Honduras, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Qatar have not played single match in the last 18 months.

What is likely to happen now in Colombia?

The federation may come under pressure from the government over its treatment of women’s football. Events have escalated further because of reporting by a journalism collective called La Liga Contra Silencio (The League against Silence) which says that two members of the Under-17 national team have filed a complaint with public prosecutors alleging sexual abuse by staff employed by the federation. The federation says it is taking these allegations very seriously.