Soccer is an intense sport. It takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of skill. Soccer is played by everyone, any age, any gender.
In Lleida, Spain, a girls’ team is proving they belong in soccer just as much as the boys. This is especially important in a country like Spain, where women’s soccer is often overlooked.
Although Spain’s first appearance in the Women’s World Cup was in 2015, Spain’s top women’s league did not sign its first major corporate sponsorship deal until last summer. This comes three decades after the league had already begun.
To top it off, Real Madrid, by far the country’s most successful club, does not field a women’s squad.
Andrea Gómez is the captain and top scorer for the championship team. She boldly says, “I always try to show that soccer isn’t just for boys. If you’re technically better, you can compensate for being perhaps physically weaker.”
The club’s general director, José María Salmerón, says, “To push these girls, we felt they had to play against boys because you need strong opponents to make real progress.”
AEM has the opportunity to register the girls’ team in a boys’ league because of the Spanish soccer federation rule that allows clubs to field players of any sex. This includes mixed teams that combine both boys and girls for junior league competitions until the age of 14.
AEM is taking full advantage of this rule and they are immersing these young players into leagues that help push them to improve and progress.
Unfortunately, this has not always been accepted. Sergio González, AEM’s president stated, “A few parents called us crazy when we registered the team. If this had gone very wrong, we would have been held responsible for humiliating the girls.”
In the beginning, it was definitely a challenge. However, as time went on they began to progress and beat the boys’ team more often. This caused a variety of upset among the league’s participants.
Salmerón says, “It’s really been more a problem for parents rather than their boys. It’s strange, but most of the macho comments and insults have come from the mothers of some of the boys we play.”
Others, including referees to the children’s games, have a had a difficult time accepting the girls playing. There have been occasions where sexist comments have been made towards the girls and officials and parents have questioned their ability to compete.
AEM is making a huge statement and they are proving that girls belong on the field just as much as boys. Women are present in sports and it is always important to acknowledge.
In AEM’s final home game, the girls’ team won against their toughest rival, the boys from La Noguera.
“Women have made real progress, which is amazing when you look at the big difference in how the money is allocated,” González said.
But unequal treatment is still seen today. González continues to say, “In youth soccer, I know some clubs that only use their vehicles to transport their boys; the girls have to fend for themselves.”
Captain of the team, Gómez said she was proud that her team helped promote positive images of women’s soccer in Spain, even if her own ambition is to move eventually to the United States to play there instead.
“I want to play where women’s soccer is really valued,” Gómez said. “The paradise is in the United States — not here, unfortunately.”
Women will continue to progress and make a name for themselves in sports, even with the challenges and barriers that stand in their way.
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