Colombian women battle FCF discrimination, disappeared cash and a disbanded pro-league

By Samindra Kunti

March 11 – The lid has been well and truly blown off on the cover-up of the abuses the Colombia women’s national team have endured over the last few years at the hands of the Colombian Football Federation (FCF). In an interview with Insideworldfootball Colombian player Melissa Ortiz highlights the systematic mistreatment and neglect the players have had to deal with it. 

On Thursday, a number of Colombia senior women’s national team players and Acolfutpro, the Colombian arm of FIFpro, staged a press conference to list their complaints about how the FCF has mismanaged the national team in recent years. The Colombians qualified for the 2011 and 2015 Women’s World Cups and the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. In Canada, they reached the last 16 where they were knocked out by the eventual champions the US.

Those results should have mobilised the FCF, but instead the state of the women’s national team has deteriorated ever since. “We talked about how we had to pay some of our own flights – players who live outside of Colombia – to go to camp, a camp that we were rostered in,” explained Ortiz. “They’d give us used gear – used shirts, used socks. They took away our daily stipend which equaled around $20 a day. They took it away since before the Rio Olympics and we have since not seen that and they took it away without any type of reasoning, information or communication.”

In a six-page document handed out by Acolfutpro the complaints center around three main issues: mistreatment of Colombian players over the last six years, demands for a disciplinary procedure against Tolima president Gabriel Camargo for sexist and discriminatory statements against women and the FCF ’s false claims this is the first time these complaints have been made.

In December 2018 Camargo publicly said that “women players booze a lot more than the men… Furthermore, [women’s football] is a tremendous breeding ground for lesbianism.” At the start of 2019 Acolfutpro wrote to FCF to request action be taken against Camargo, but Camargo was let off the hook, getting with just having to issue an apology.

The list of grievances, however, goes on: the FCF paid just a part of the prize money of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The players were entitled to about $3,000-4,000 each, but they each received around $2000.

FCF officials went as far as trying to pocket the money of the player’s image rights from Panini for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. “Panini came to Colombia and took our photos,” explained Ortiz. “We did not know at the time – I guess out of naivety – that Panini had owed us image rights. Well, it came out, because of Acolfutpro, that Panini actually paid the federation, but the federation never paid the players for our own image rights. It is nothing, they paid us maybe $150-200 each, but it is just that the federation pocketed that money and we would not have known of anything – no idea – you know, until the union stepped in.”

“After the London Olympics we went more than 700 days without a camp or training,” said Ortiz. “We didn’t have a head coach anymore. After the Rio Olympics we went 400 days without either of the above. It is just inexplicable because how can you go 700 or 400 days when FIFA finances a cycle for development plans for women’s football? So it is questionable where that money really goes.”

Former Colombian women’s coach Felipe Taborda allegedly ran a side business to cash in on the women’s game. He’d call up parallel squads and those players were asked to pay accommodation and food costs into his personal bank account.

The players have repeatedly approached the federation about the abuses, sending correspondence as far back as the 2016 Rio Olympics when they handed a letter to FCF Olympic delegate Alvaro Gonzalez, requesting they were appointed a new “coach who was serious about the growth of women’s football”. Their letters listed a number of other complaints.

In a statement the FCF denied that the players had communicated their grievances. “As of today, February 27, 2019, we have not received a complaint or formal complaint from the players in our offices, for: alleged charges in call ups, alleged sales of uniforms to players, alleged payments of airline tickets by squad players, alleged lack of guarantees for the development of their sport, or other failures,” wrote the federation. “In spite of not having received complaints or complaints, the relevant Disciplinary Commission will advance the corresponding procedures, according to the regulations and their scope.”

The revolt by the players and demand for justice in Colombian women’s football at the senior level will come as a severe setback for the FCF, who have expressed their interest in hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The discrimination exhibited by FCF has also seen it move to end the professional women’s league in Colombia, retaining a semi-pro/amateur version, and restrict the national team squad to players under the age of 25.

“They [the Federation] pretty much said it [the league] is a waste of money and they said there are not enough professional players in the country to sustain a league, which is incorrect,” said Ortiz. “There are enough players. They said owners of clubs are not even interested in investing in their women’s team, which is also not true: a bunch of clubs have said they already have sponsor lined up for the women’s team and they already have several sponsors contracted.”

Ortiz considers the ban of players over 25-years-old as retaliation by the federation to the complaints by senior players. This week the players and the FCF may sit together in a first, formal meeting to address the situation. The players want to bring Acolfutpro along as their representative, something the FCF is not keen on.

A request for further comment from the FCF went unanswered.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1600937381labto1600937381ofdlr1600937381owedi1600937381sni@o1600937381fni1600937381