After many years representing their country with distinction at international level, Colombia’s women footballers have finally been given the opportunity to show their skills on a domestic stage, with the long-awaited national professional league all set to get under way on Saturday 18 February.
Las Superpoderosas (The Powerpuff Girls, as the national women’s team is known) and their successors are about to have their cherished dream of playing in a national championship fulfilled, with FIFA’s Forward Programme providing economic and structural support for the new league, while CONMEBOL and DIMAYOR, which runs Colombia’s professional competitions, also lend their backing.
“This is reward for the work put in by the players and all the people who have been supporting women’s football in Colombia for so many years now,” Cafetera international Daniela Montoya, a veteran of two FIFA Women’s World Cup™ competitions and one Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, told FIFA.com. “We are so happy to have a professional league. It’s a historic moment for the country and it goes without saying that we are very happy and excited.”
The 18 teams taking part in the newly founded Liga Femenina Aguila will be divided into three round-robin groups of six, with teams in each section playing each other home and away through to 7 May. The top two from each group and the two best third-placed sides will then go through to the quarter-finals, to be played over two legs. Following the semi-finals, the grand final will be played in June and will crown Colombia's first domestic champions.
The winners will then go forward to represent the country in the next Women’s Copa Libertadores. They will also take on Spain’s national champions home and away, thanks to a deal signed with the Liga Iberdrola Femenina.
Colombia’s new league teams can field a maximum of eight foreigners, with players from Venezuela, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago having signed for clubs across the country.
What is most exciting of all, however, is the chance to see players such as Yoreli Rincon, Lady Andrade, Catalina Usme and Daniela Montoya in action, players who have done so much to raise the standard of Colombian women’s football in representing the country at World Cups, South American Championships and Olympic Games.
“The national championship will help raise the standard of the national team,” said Rincon, who plays for Patriotas Boyaca, in conversation with FIFA.com. “We used to train every six months or every year even, and now we’ll be training twice a day every day, and playing every eight days. We’re all going to become better players and the national team will keep getting better too, because there are a lot more girls out there who want to have that opportunity and who’ll see that they’re going to get noticed now.”
Fixtures in the new women’s league will be played the day before the men’s games, the idea being to give the championship increased exposure, reduce costs and make full use of the synergies between the sporting and media infrastructures already in place. One women’s game will also be broadcast on TV every week.
“They’ve decided to put everything into this tournament,” said Rincon. “Having televised games is a huge step forward and it’s something that not even other countries with well-established professional leagues have. I’m very happy and proud at what Colombia is doing for this sport and for women in general, because it shows that equality is on the way and that we deserve more respect and more support, that women are capable of doing anything we want.”
Most of the players in the new league will have employment contracts, while the clubs will be responsible for paying their salaries and expenses and organising games. For its part, DIMAYOR will cover the cost of all transport (land and air), accommodation, refereeing and kits through funding from TV rights, sponsors, the Ministry of Sport and FIFA’s Forward Programme.
“The contract is a big step in the right direction, because it gives you security,” added Rincon. “You can make your living through football and that allows the players to focus on it a lot more and to keep on playing. We had all these other priorities before, other jobs that we had to do to provide for our families and children. But now we don’t have that desperate need any more.”
This is a moment to savour for Colombian women’s football, though as Montoya pointed out, much still needs to be done, with the new professional league representing the start rather than the end of a long process: “It’s a huge responsibility. We are very committed to the continued growth of this league, not just over the next three years but forever. We have to think big so that more companies can come in and sign up for the project. This season is going to show that the standard is high and that it’s worth making the effort.”
Group A: *Real Cartagena, Petrolera, R. Santander, Union Magdalena, Bucaramanga, Envigado.
*Group B: Equidad, Santa Fe, Patriotas, Atletico Huila, Cucuta, Fortaleza.
*Group C: *Pasto, Cortulua, Pereira, Quindio, Orsomarso, America.