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One player has rallied women footballers in Chile after federation officials deserted the national team.

After Chile failed to qualify for the 2015 World Cup the national federation (ANFP) did not arrange any matches or training sessions for two years. The team dropped from 41st to 128th in the FIFA rankings.

Iona Rothfeld decided to set up a women’s player association as the federation officials stonewalled players.

“We kept asking what the reason was for not having a game, but they said nothing,” Rothfeld said. “Instead of developing our game, they just ignored us. It was outrageous.”

Conditions in the local women’s league were poor as well. “From my experiences at my own team, Universidad Catolica, and those of my teammates in the national team in their clubs, I knew conditions were really bad.”

Rothfeld and some other players set up the Asociación Nacional de Jugadoras de Fútbol Femenino (Anjuff) in July 2016, which has generated new energy into women’s football in Chile.

“We have organized meetings with the minister of sports, the minister of gender equality and the federation president.”

Anjuff presented proposals, including hosting an international tournament and starting a project to let girls and boys play together because girls can’t play organized football until they are 12.

“The proposals were received very well. The ANFP included some in its new women’s football development program,” Rothfeld said.

Chile will host the 2018 women’s Copa América. And the national team is playing again. Earlier this month it lost a friendly in and against France (1-0).

“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.”

The union, which has been supported by the men’s player association (SIFUP), will hold its first general assembly on October 2nd.

Anjuff and Rothfeld are also pushing for improvements in the domestic league, which is not well arranged, some clubs even disbanded their women’s teams. “Only two of the 25 teams in the top division act professionally. Players don’t have contracts, but these clubs arrange food, cover expenses and have a good technical staff that helps players develop.”

Other teams only had one coach or no training pitch, or demanded that players paid to appear in matches. “These clubs simply said they had no money for the team, although we knew they had.”

“Clubs want to spend as little as possible on a women’s team. One club suggested they would pay half of the expenses if the players paid the other halve. When we asked if the men also had to pay, they came up with the stupid argument that the men’s team brought in more money.”

“It is a gender issue. We feel discriminated and that is one of the main reasons for our existence. We have fantastic players, who have appeared in a World Cup and are enjoying successful careers, yet nobody knows them.”

When Chile’s U-17 boys’ team qualified for the World Cup in March local media claimed it was the first team in 20 years that a youth team achieved such a feat.*

“Are you kidding me, how about us?” Rothfeld posted on her Twitter account: she was part of the U-17 girls’ team that appeared at the 2010 World Cup.

Anjuff has launched a special campaign to raise awareness about women’s football: “nosotras jugamos”.

“We hope to sell shirts with this slogan. With the proceeds we could make an extra contribution to the development of women’s football.”

Rothfeld has stepped down as union president because she started playing and studying at Ohio Valley University in the United States but remains closely involved with the union. She is looking forward to the first general assembly. “This is another important step for us. I hope that many players will get involved.”

 

"We stand together with Argentina"

Last week, Argentina’s national women’s team went on strike, due to the way their FA treats the players. They had not played an official match for two years and received no adequate compensation for the two months they spent in training camp.

Iona Rothfeld sees similarities with the struggles of Chile’s female players: “I am very proud that they are collectively taking action and raising their voices for improved and more dignified conditions which enables them to develop as players.”

“I feel we stand together in this fight, as women players. If they want or need any advice in this matter, I am at their disposal.”

 

*In 2015 Chile organized the U-17 boys World Cup, the team did not have to qualify for that tournament.

 

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Iona Rothfeld with the Women's World XI at the FIFPro office

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