‘Tired of being humiliated’: Argentina players walk out over pay and conditions

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Argentina;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Argentina</a>’s Lorena Benítez (centre) has asked whether she should leave her family to ‘go to a place where they don’t value us as athletes?’</span><span>Photograph: Harriet Lander/Fifa/Getty Images</span>

Four footballers from Argentina’s national women’s team withdrew last week from international duty in a dispute over “humiliating” pay and poor training conditions. The goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, the midfielder Lorena Benítez, and the defenders Julieta Cruz and Eliana Stábile walked out and called for greater investment in the women’s game.

“We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated,” Cruz posted on social media, along with a picture of the squad. “We need improvements for Argentina’s women’s soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast.” Their decision came days before back-to-back matches against Costa Rica, games the players said they were unable to claim expenses for because they were being held in Buenos Aires.

Related: New women’s football calendar likely to stifle club game – Fifa must be open to dialogue | Moya Dodd

The women, who all play for Boca Juniors, also cited issues with food. Benítez said the team was not given breakfast or lunch during recent training sessions – only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana afterwards – and had been told “there is no money”. She added that the players’s families were also charged 5,000 pesos (£4.30) for tickets to watch their matches.

“Do I leave my children, my family, my club, my job, to go to a place where they don’t value us as athletes, where they can’t give us the basics?” Benítez said. “We have been carrying a lot of things throughout all these years of representing our country, many colleagues have left for the same reasons, for feeling sadness and not joy every time it is time to be there.”

On Instagram, Stábile said: “I’ve been tired now for some time over the lack of interest in women’s football.” Oliveros said change is needed for future players: “My wish for this year and those to follow? That the next generations can enjoy and be happy running behind the ball, as perhaps at some point we were.”

Estefanía Banini, who decided to stop playing for Argentina last year, weighed into the debate, thanking the players on social media. “It was a matter of time,” she said. However, the team’s coach, Germán Portanova, said that while he understands the women’s decision, “there is another way”. He said: “We believe through dialogue, or internally, we can continue to grow women’s football. There has been progress in recent years, and I also think there is still a lot left to do, but through dialogue.”

It is common to see women and girls donning football shirts around Buenos Aires, and playing in post-work five- or 11-a-side matches in mixed and women-only teams. But Argentinian women say their enthusiasm for the game is not matched by sufficient investment. The players’ protest is the latest crisis in Argentinian women’s football and comes in stark contrast to the men’s team, which the nation continues to celebrate after its World Cup win in 2022.

In the early 2000s, the national women’s players reported sleeping on buses during World Cup tournaments and wearing secondhand men’s shirts, while in 2017 the team dropped out of the Fifa rankings due to two years of inactivity. The players went on strike, saying they were struggling financially after their stipends of about $10 went unpaid.

According to local news reports, the average monthly salary for a female player in Argentina’s Primera División is $203,500 (£178), forcing most players to have second jobs. The Argentinian Football Association could not confirm the figure, saying each player signs an individual contract.

In 2018, after the players were pictured with their hands cupped behind their ears to signal that nobody was listening to them, the forward Belén Potassa said: “We live in a football-mad country but with a lot of machismo. Football is Messi, Higuaín, Maradona and no one else.”

The team – which was granted semi-professional status in 2019 – sits 33rd in the world rankings. “More and more football clubs have soccer for women but it’s still not enough,” said Catalina Sarrabayrouse, an Argentinian football reporter. “It’s necessary to invest more, think more about how to make the discipline grow and, most of all, authorities need to invest understanding that they won’t see revenue immediately.”

The Argentinian Football Association denied it makes players pay for family members’ tickets, said that the food issue was a temporary problem and added that no teams receive travel expenses when playing in the region. The AFA did, however, add that the women’s team have since reached an agreement and will now receive travel expenses for the two matches.

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