Around the World in Women's Soccer: Chile's La Roja
Around the World in Women's Soccer is a series that explores women's soccer in other countries. Each country will get two stories: The first will explore the country's national team, while the second will explore the country's domestic league.
"It is not like this patriarchal establishment is whispering that they don't want women to play soccer—they are shouting it."
These are the words of Brenda Elsey, a professor at Hofstra University and author of the book "Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America." She's right: it is no secret that in a world filled with systems and societies that don't want women to play soccer, players in Latin America have faced often insurmountable odds. So, how did Chile — a country that was actually taken off the FIFA rankings in 2016 for inactivity — make it all the way to the 2019 Women's World Cup and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics?
Before we dive into that, it is important to understand where Chile is coming from. The country has had a team for a while — they came close to qualifying for the Women's World Cup in 1991, 1995, and 2011. Alongside Brazil, they are the only team to compete in every single Copa America Femenina tournament, which dates back to 1991. But the women representing Chile faced injustices that are familiar to many. They were only allowed to play on fields when the men weren't using them. They wore the jerseys the men weren't wearing. Often, they didn't have their own locker rooms.
In 2016, the country reached a new low. The federation didn't schedule any games for the women's team, so they fell off FIFA's radar due to inactivity. Iona Rothfeld, who played for the national team for seven years, was furious. So, she started a grassroots organization called National Association of Women Soccer Players, or ANJUFF. The pressure from this organization, along with a change in leadership on the federation's board, caused Chile to increase their investment in women's soccer by 150%.
The growth in Chile was quick. In 2018, the team hosted the Copa America Femenina tournament and the team placed in second. That was enough to get them a ticket to their first World Cup in 2019. While they went out in the Group Stage, they were able to snag their first-ever World Cup win in a 2-0 victory over Thailand.
Chile captured people's attention at the 2019 Women's World Cup. Christiane Endler is their most notable player; she is the team's stellar goalkeeper, who also plays for Paris Saint-Germain. Carla Guerrero, aka La Jefa, is a veteran defender who has appeared in more competitive matches for Chile than anyone else and who scored the game-winning goal in Chile's 2-1 victory over Cameroon in the Olympic playoffs. María José Urrutia is the striker who scored Chile's only goal at the 2019 Women's World Cup.
Now that they've qualified, Chile's eyes will be firmly focused on their upcoming opponents at the Olympics. They are in Group E, along with Great Britain, Japan, and Canada. It is difficult to imagine that a team as new as Chile will be able to compete with these three established powerhouses. But the beauty of the game is that anything can happen. Powerhouses can fall. Underdogs can rise. A team that was inactive in 2016 can play in their first Olympics just four years later.
As Guerrero said in an interview, "Football is unpredictable... it might be our time."
You can catch Chile in action when they open the Olympic tournament, facing off against Great Britain at 4:30pm local time (5:30am EDT).