From A Bright Future To A Major Crisis

This article has been edited. Roll to the end of it to read the resolution of the saga.

More than a year ago, we published a special article about the bright future of the Colombian women's football. The first ever season of the women's professional league was a great success, and the attendance in the final was a staggering 33,000 people. The second season wasn't successful as the first one, but the Colombian clubs became a continental powerhouse, as Atletico Huila was the first Colombian club to win the Copa Libertadores Femenina.

Back then, the women's football in Colombia kept developing, even though the Colombian national team failed to qualify for the 2019 Women's World Cup. The U-17 women's national made a decent performance at the U-17 World Cup and brought great hope for the future. Yet, behind these successes, the recent stories reveal bigger problems about the treatment of the Colombian Football Federation with women's football in the country.

Colombia U-17 women’s national team, revealed the problem of women’s football in Colombia (FIFA)

Colombia U-17 women’s national team, revealed the problem of women’s football in Colombia (FIFA)

Melissa Ortiz and Isabella Echeverry, two of the national team players, decided to break the silence and has been interviewed to a local radio station in the United States, telling how unbearable the situation in Colombia is. "We don't even have the basic conditions in order to be called professional footballers," said Ortiz. "We are not being paid, we are being threatened since we cannot speak to the media and complain." The uncomfortable situation in Colombia is not only about paying for the players, but it's also about giving players their basic rights. "We pay for our international flights to join the national team. We don't get decent medical treatment and the federation stopped paying us the medical insurance."

This interview was just the beginning. A few days later, two of the U-17 national team players complained against the head coach, Didier Luna, and the physiotherapist, Sigifredo Alonso, for sexual harassment and bullying. Alonso was fired after a lawsuit that was filed against him, but Luna kept his job despite this behavior. One of the players said that Luna promised to help her for a "special friendship". She rejected, but since then she suffered from overload in the practices and got yells and threats from Luna in the dressing room.

The other physiotherapist of the national team, Carolina Rozo, also suffered from Luna's harassment. "He tried to kiss me and the players, he tried to touch their bottoms," said Rozo. These were only part of her accusations. A hearing will be made for Luna, who denies that all these incidents happened. "These are complete lies. People are trying to hurt me and my family and to hurt my position as a coach who contributed to the Colombian football", said Luna.

It's not the first time that the negative treatment of the Colombian federation is revealed. After the 2015 Women's World Cup, Daniela Montoya criticized the federation for not paying the bonus of $3000 for the players. Due to this criticism, Montoya was banned from the national team. In the end, the Colombian federation paid the players a reduced fee of $2000 but still ignored the national team. The team's captain, Natalia Gaitan, sent the federation a letter that claims the national team didn't made a single practice for 11 months and a new coach wasn't appointed for 8 months since the end of the World Cup.

This bad attitude didn't affect only the national team, but also the domestic league. Many of the clubs' presidents preferred to invest the prize money from the domestic league and the Copa Libertadores Femenina on the men's team. They are also saying that there is no reason to keep and running a professional women's league in Colombia. The federation's vice-president, Alvaro Gonzalez even stated that the league is far from being on a decent level.

Nowadays, Gonzalez decided to abolish the professional league, and only a semi-professional league will be played at the next season. This decision didn't get wide support. Marta Lucía Ramírez, the Vice President of Colombia, sent support letters to the players. The men's national team leading players such as Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado criticized the federation in the social networks.

Daniela Montoya and Natalia Gaitan, Colombian women’s football gets wide support (Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Daniela Montoya and Natalia Gaitan, Colombian women’s football gets wide support (Elsa/Getty Images North America)

While Colombia presented their idea to bid for the 2023 Women's World Cup, the women's football in the country is in crisis. The future doesn't look bright as it was a few years ago and the recent decisions could put the next generation of Colombian female footballers in a problem. It's not only an issue of playing in a professional level, but it's also a matter of whether they will get better conditions and treatment. It is remained to be seen whether the federation will understand it or may it be the sad end of Colombian women's football.

Later edition, by March 13th 2019 by the author:
On March 12th a final reunion took place in Bogota with all the involved members, and at the end, it was decided that the league will continue to act as a professional and supposed to start in August. "We want to maintain the league not just for this year, but for many more years to come", said Jorge Enrique Velez, Dimayor's president. He took advantage of the fact that Coljuegos (The body which is responsible for sports competitions in Colombia) was also in the meeting and asked them to allocate a special budget only for the women's league. He also stated that the Dimayor would negotiate with several sponsors to take sponsorship on the league. "We are happy that the public understood our tough situation and that we were able to sit and speak face to face with the members of the federation. They promised to help us to develop our sports", said Orianica Velasquez, one of the players represents.

Let's hope that the Colombian federation will fulfil their word and will take care of women's football in a country which breath football and the potential to succeed is very high.