Around the World in Women's Soccer: Chile's Women's Football Championship
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.
In 2016, women's soccer in Chile hit a low point. Due to sexism and corruption within the Chilean Football Federation, the women's national team fell out of the FIFA rankings after not playing a game for more than two years. This lit a fire under many players, including Iona Rothfeld, who founded a players' union (ANJUFF) in response.
The new union, as well as changes in leadership at the federation, had an immediate impact on the women's national team. It qualified for the 2019 Women's World Cup and recently qualified for the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Olympics. But the impact on the domestic league has been slower.
Chile has had a domestic women's soccer league since 2008. From 2011-2017, it used the Apertura (opening) and Clausura (closing) format, meaning that the 10-month season was split into two seasons with two separate champions. As in many women's leagues, there is one club that dominates in titles: Colo-Colo, based in Chile's capital city, Santiago.
Colo-Colo has 13 league titles and one title in the Copa Libertadores Femenina (the South American Women's Champions League). The club has been home to many great players, including Christiane Endler and Estefania Banini. The club has been the primary investor in women's soccer, although that seems to be changing, with Santiago Morning winning the last three league titles.
The Chilean league is still only semi-pro. Teams can decide whether they want to pay players. While only a few have been offered paid, professional contracts, it's a big step forward compared with where they were a few years ago.
On Chile's most recent national team roster, 14 of the players belonged to domestic clubs. Six of those players are with Santiago Morning, four are with Universidad de Chile, three are with Colo-Colo, and one is with Palestino. The players who are abroad mostly play in Spain, but two (including Endler) play in France and striker Daniela Zamora plays in Sweden.
The domestic league in Chile is definitely still a work in progress. But players who have been fighting for better treatment are encouraged by what they see. The league is starting to professionalize, and girls are being given access to the sport at a younger age. Perhaps most importantly, Chile's federation seems to recognize that it owes their women a debt.
“We are on the right path, we just need to keep pushing, keep fighting,” Rothfeld said ahead of the 2019 Women's World Cup. "I hope that one day we can be seen with the same eyes that they see men playing — that it’s no wonder to see little girls playing with a ball, that people don’t get amazed because you are a girl, that they get amazed because you are so good.”