South American women emerge to embrace beautiful game

Fri May 16, 2014 11:12am EDT
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By Alexandra Ulmer

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Long on the soccer sidelines, more and more South American women are striking back by lacing up their boots and embracing the region's most cherished sport.

Machismo is losing some of its influence in large parts of the area while women gain ground in politics and the workplace. And as South America evolves, so does soccer.

"As a kid I was the only girl on the block to play. It used to be almost disgraceful for a woman," said Daniela Pardo, now the 25 year-old captain of the Chilean women's team, as she took a breather during practice.

"There's been an incredible change. Now it's seen differently, like something that can help women gain independence. I've become a role model for young girls in my neighborhood," said Pardo, a midfielder who hails from the poor area of San Ramon in the capital Santiago.

South American women are playing more and playing better, paving the way for them to become a force to be reckoned with on the global soccer stage.

The evidence is more anecdotal than factual. Several FIFA officials told Reuters they had no current figures, though they concurred the women's game is flourishing in the region counting down to next month's men's World Cup in Brazil.

To be sure, the surge is part of a global boom, with an estimated 29 million women and girls playing worldwide. But it is especially salient for South America, a region revered for its ball game and infamous for its machismo.

While Brazil originally blazed the trail, women's teams in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela are starting to give the soccer powerhouse a run for its money.   Continued...

Daniela Pardo, captain of Chile's national women's soccer team, balances a ball on her head while training in Santiago May 14, 2014.  REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado