Goalkeeping Prodigy Vanessa Cordoba Talks Gender Inequality in Soccer

Goalkeeping Prodigy

Vanessa Cordoba Talks Gender Inequality in Soccer

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Is it a man’s world? So it would seem, as male-dominated sports generate billions each year.

The disparities between male and female soccer are endless – speed, agility ,play rates, game attendance are but a few of the defining factors that determines the women’s game inferior to that of the men’s.

We’ve spoken to Colombia’s Vanessa Cordoba about what makes the game so intrinsically different and just why are women so far behind in terms of career longevity and pay. Having grown up the daughter of an esteemed Colombian goalkeeper – the boundless passion that defines the sport encompassed her life from the very beginning.

From an early age, the daughter of Colombian soccer star, Oscar Cordoba, was involved in a multitude of sports – but it wasn’t until she was injured playing beach volleyball that the prospect of soccer lingered in the horizon – suggested of course, by her dad. A familiar face on the Colombian goalkeeping scene, he naturally suggested place between the posts for his daughter.

“I wasn’t a very girly girl – I think my dad always wanted to have a boy and then he got two girls (and had to wait 15 more years for a boy) so we always had soccer balls around, and I always went to watch him train.”

It hasn’t been an easy journey – between difficult collegiate transitions in the U.S and injury ridden seasons, hers is a tale many have heard before – but mostly from a male perspective. Coverage of women’s soccer – whether it’s European, American or national is close to non-existent. Vanessa attributes this to lack of funding and lack of interest from wealthy sponsors that create hype around the sport through adverts and spreads in magazines, photo shoots etc. Adidas, who she’s reluctant to talk poorly of because of their great relationship with her father, has on numerous occasions embarrassed not only themselves, but the women they sponsor by not treating them as they would their male counterparts.

“If we don’t get exposure – they (the people) won’t know us.”

Courtesy of PanamericanWorld

She recalls a match for which the girls were presented menswear to dress in – men’s spandex, ill fitting in areas known to all of us and ridiculous looking on a woman’s physique. The optics don’t help them either consequently, because everything looks so big, and they aren’t easily marketable if their gear doesn’t look good. It’s a revolving, repetitive problem whereby the care isn’t given to the sport and so a business cannot be cultivated – money cannot be made.

Women are left consistently in the shade of their male superstar equivalents. To make it in women’s soccer, to command the respect the guys receive from sponsors, donors, management, a lot of the time it’s based on how many shirts you sell, and not your talent – a complete reversal of the situation in the men’s game.

“While there’s more competition for men – there’s also more teams, more sponsorship.”

The sport is suffering in Colombia because of this degradation – Vanessa gets more money playing college soccer in the U.S than she would for the national team at home. There are no incentives to play in Colombia – many of Vanessa’s comrades indeed have second jobs to accommodate the fact that pay is also non-existent for female soccer players in the country. So why do it? Why continue to pursue a career that rewards not your talent, your ability nor your hard work?

Sheer, unadulterated passion.

That’s what drives these women above all. They enter the sport knowing they will not reap the rewards of the highest paid most respected male footballers – they won’t attract the crowds or recognition the men in their very same field do. They are destined to pale in comparison to Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and every other boy wonder that is put on a rotating pedestal every season, every tournament, every game – idolized by the masses, celebrated in the annals of the game.

At the women’s Champions League final – a riveting match, tied in the final minutes; a game that would have left any crowd breathless was broadcasted on very few stations, and received a minuscule amount of attention from the global media. What’s more – is the infamous Champions League anthem, a mainstay of the competition and a symbol of the very sport itself, was not played at the women’s final.

Were they not worthy of the honor? Did they not make the cut, or was it simply — like the embarrassing Adidas fiasco Vanessa has recalled — an oversight? Are those that deal with the female side of this sport just lacking in both attention and motivation to improve the sport, or is it just a serious case of sexism? Vanessa cites a quote from the vice-president of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Seyi Akinwunmi, whereby he said that it was ‘lesbianism’ that was killing women’s football. The translation of which, one can only assume, is that if women do not become sex symbols within this sport, the sport will not thrive.

Amy Corcoran

The Associate Editor of SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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