Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE: Women Kick Off ‘New Stage’ in Sports

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Nov 19 2008 (IPS) - Chile is hosting the Nov. 19-Dec. 7 Under-20 Women’s World Cup, for which the country renovated four municipal stadiums, in an effort that according to President Michelle Bachelet will mark “a before and after” for national sports.

“These four stadiums we’re inaugurating will provide extraordinary facilities for Chilean sports in general and for football in particular. These are top-notch installations, fully equipped with all sorts of amenities. They’re of a quality never before seen in Chilean football,” prominent national sports reporter Sergio Brotfeld told IPS.

“My only concern is how they’re going to be maintained, who’s going to take on that responsibility so that we don’t waste such a great investment,” said Brotfeld, a regular commentator on the radio show “Al aire libre” aired by the local station Cooperativa.

The FIFA U-20 World Women’s Cup Chile 2008 – the fourth edition of this women’s football championship organised by the International Federation of Football Associations – is bringing together female players under 20 from Argentina, Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, Congo, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway and the United States, in addition to the home team.

On Nov. 2, President Bachelet inaugurated the “Francisco Sánchez Rumoroso” stadium in the northern region of Coquimbo, and less than a week later she headed south to Araucanía for the launch of the “Germán Becker” stadium in Temuco, which she kicked off with a comical twist when she accidentally hurled her shoe in the air as she hit the first ball in the traditional ritual.

These two are joined by the “Municipal de La Florida” stadium in Santiago and the “Nelson Oyarzún Arenas” stadium in Chillán, in the southern region of Bío-Bío.

The installations, which cost a combined total of more than 100 million dollars, are part of the Bicentennial Stadiums Network. Together with other works, they will embellish Chile’s festivities when it celebrates its 200th anniversary as an independent nation in 2010.

Each of the stadiums has a capacity of 12,000 to 18,000 spectators, and the two that are located in the south are roofed to protect sports fans from the region’s copious rains. Experts agree that the stadiums have first-rate facilities, including accesses, pitches, seating, locker rooms, pressrooms and parking lots.

After the inauguration of the Temuco stadium, the female U-20 national teams of Chile and Uruguay faced off in a friendly match before an audience of 18,000, seen by authorities on the subject as a very positive turnout, considering that women’s football is still in diapers in Chile.

Chile’s players, Las Rojitas, led by Spanish coach Marta Tejedor, beat Uruguay 2-0.

At the “Nelson Oyarzún Arenas” launching ceremony, Bachelet said “the Bicentennial stadiums mark a before and after for football and sports in Chile.”

Three days later, in Temuco, she referred to the renovation of the four stadiums as a “first stage,” as “within the next two years we will have a state-of-the-art sports centre in every region” of the country, she said.

“Chile can do this, despite the economic difficulties the world is facing, because we established our priorities wisely, we saved and capitalised with our eyes set on development,” she said.

“We want our children and young people to practice sports under the best possible conditions. It may seem like a dream, but dreams are precisely what make it possible for civilisations to progress,” Bachelet said.

Chile had not made such large investments in stadiums since it hosted the FIFA men’s world football cup in 1962.

These infrastructure projects also come at a very promising time for Chilean football in general.

The men’s national team, led by renowned Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, is turning in a solid performance in the qualifying rounds for FIFA’s next World Cup, which will be held in South Africa in 2010.

After the historic win against Argentina on Oct. 16 in Santiago – Chile’s first victory over the neighbouring country in a qualifying competition – the country’s national squad ranks fourth in the South American table, behind Paraguay and Brazil and with the same points as Argentina, but fewer goals in its favour.

Led by a group of young players, most of whom are playing professionally abroad, and deploying an offensive strategy, Chile is aiming for a place in the World Cup, which it has not achieved since France 1998.

Some national football clubs, for their part, like the popular Colo-Colo, have turned into publicly traded companies listed on the Santiago Stock Exchange, in the hope of expanding their finances to strengthen their teams, improve the training of their younger divisions, and upgrade their facilities.

In Brotfeld’s view, football is now leading sports in general in Chile, which is used to obtaining meagre results in world championships and Olympic competitions.

The journalist believes that the Bicentennial stadiums could indeed mark a watershed in sports in Chile, primarily in view of the new challenge taken on by the country, which in 2014 will be hosting the 10th edition of the South American Games, the region’s multi-sports event popularly known as ODESUR, after the South American Sports Organisation, the association responsible for the competition.

This event features “31 sports, which means that the country will have to find, condition and prepare major premises to hold each of the disciplines,” said Brotfeld, who, with a 56-year career in the field, is Chile’s oldest sports journalist.

The president of Chile’s Olympic Committee himself, Neven Ilic, has pointed out that with the facilities the country has today, it could at best host 10 of the 31 sports.

To truly implement a national sports promotion policy, in addition to the valuable, but still insufficient, progress in infrastructure, these efforts need to be backed by schools and universities, as well as by private enterprise, Brotfeld said.

A National Survey of Physical Activity and Sports Habits revealed in 2006 that 87 percent of people over 18 in Chile lead a sedentary life. That is, almost nine of every 10 Chileans practices some form of physical activity or sport with a frequency of less than three 30-minute sessions a week.

While 86 percent of men are sedentary, the percentage is higher for women, at 90 percent.

The country’s capacity to host major international sports events will also be put to the test in 2009, when the Dakar Rally is held for the first time ever in Chile and Argentina, from Jan. 3-18.

In Chile, participating motorcycles, cars and trucks will race 14 of the Rally’s stages, covering 2,555 kilometres in the country’s northern and central regions.

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