INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

“Thanks to the women’s movement, we are at a turning point in our football”

Gabriela Garton has two passions: she is a CONICET’s sociologist and goalkeeper of the National women’s football team of Argentina.


Photo: courtesy AFA

The ball is most divided than ever. It seems that the men who run behind that sphere turned into a sacred object are no longer the only protagonists of the most popular sport in the world: as the feminist movement grows, women are taking the football pitch. The feminine quota is reaching the playing field. There is no official number of associated players or women’s football teams in Argentina but the increase is significant: about thirty five women’s teams have been recorded in the AFA [Argentinian Football Association] in the province of Buenos Aires, what makes a number of around six hundred female football players in that area. It is certain that this phenomenon is going to expand: there have been encouraging facts in 2018 such as the one in which the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) urged Argentine clubs to have a women’s football team as a previous condition to compete in international tournaments from now on.

“Football used to be forbidden for us. Thanks to the women’s movement we’re now at a turning point”, sociologist Gabriela Garton states. In 2016 she got her scholarship granted by the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). Since then she has conducted a pioneering work about the analysis of gender on Argentine football narrative. “Women’s football is opening and increasing enormously. This is not a minor detail: as it is a national passion, when women participate in this sport, we are also part of the identity construction of a country.”

Garton speaks in plural because apart from reading bibliography and interviewing female football players for her research fieldwork, she throws herself to her own subject of study: she is a goalkeeper of the national women’s football team of Argentina.

“In the changing room, I reflect upon what I see. When I’m in goal, I’m a player and don’t think about academic matters”, she states from Australia. She has been there from February 23rd with her mates of the Argentine team to compete in the Four Nations Tournament. “If I get distracted with abstract thoughts or a theoretical concept, the other team scores a goal.”

 

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Gabriela Garton had relatives in Argentina but was born in Minnesota. She grew up in Florida and attended her course of studies on Hispanic Studies in Texas. Parallel to that, since she was eight and asked her parents to take her to the female league, she has always played football, one of the most popular sports for women in the USA. When Gabriela was 23 and obtained her degree, a friend of her who played in River told her that the club was looking for a goalkeeper. “I didn’t think about it, I came here. Besides, my grandparents, uncles and my mother already lived in Argentina. I’ve always loved football and I wanted play it at the highest possible level.”

If I had stayed there, I could have lived on my salary as a player: the USA is one of the few countries with professional female football players, like in France, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, England, and Australia. Here, she has to divide her time for her training and her studies as a CONICET’s scholar. When she decided to come to Argentina, she had a secret hope: to become a player of the national women’s football team.

“When I moved to Buenos Aires, I started to play in River and suddenly I realized that I missed studying. I needed to keep my mind active.” I met Pablo Alabarces by chance. He is a CONICET’s researcher who analyzes popular cultures. After analyzing it, I decided to do the Master in Sociology of Culture and Culture Analysis in the National University of San Martín (UNSAM), and apply for a scholarship in CONICET (she obtained in 2016, with Alabarces as her thesis director) and made women’s football her subject of study. “My case is unique: there aren’t several researchers who also compete in high-performance sports, especially in the field of women’s football, which is so relevant to analyze now.”

After playing for River, she began to play in UAI Urquiza. In 2015, she received the call she had expected so much. The national women’s football team was organizing to compete at the Toronto 2015 ParaPan American Games. She was called to play as a goalkeeper.

 

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“I’ve found lots of interesting facts in women’s football. Firstly, the social factor: the players belong to all social strata, there’re girls who come from slum areas, other with more resources or even some who play in gated communities. The old stereotypes for women who played football such as considering them ‘tomboys’ or ‘lesbians’ disappeared” the researcher explains.

Garton conducted an ethnographic study of the UAI Urquiza, a first league team of the AFA, which won the last championship of its league and competes against clubs such as Boca and River. UAI Urquiza is a particular club because it provides more benefits for the players: as there aren’t contracts in women’s teams in Argentina, the club provides accommodation for the players who come from other provinces, food, scholarships to attend university courses, and work in the institution.

“But it is a weird system: the moment you do not belong to the club, you miss the benefits. Besides, as there aren’t contacts, the relationship with the club is like in the “gift theory” (from French anthropologist Marcel Mauss), in which the players feel like an obligation towards the institution and always seem to be in debt with the club because, our role as players are never clear. We are neither professionals nor amateurs. The positions as players are uncertain. Our situation is precarious as there are no guarantees and no legal resources to protect us.”

To conduct her thesis master, Garton interviewed her team mates and kept critical distance as a player. “When I recorded formal interviews with my mates, they felt a bit strange. Some did not understand what I studied or what I was aiming at. But some minutes later they felt more comfortable and said relevant things.”

That was how she managed to quantify the number of hours these women spend playing football without obtaining economic remuneration. Considering the amount of time commuting to the premises of UAI Urquiza -the only club that provides them with the possibility to work, study and other benefits- located in Tristán Suárez, and the training, the Argentine players spend seven hours of their daily life in football. “It’s like a part time job for the amount of time it takes, and when people learn that you aren’t paid for that work, it’s hard for them to understand why. The players keep on doing it because they love it and have a passion for it. That is something I’d like to explore more for my PhD.”

At the end of 2018, she obtained her master. It was not easy for her to deal with her times for training and attendance to university. “To study has always been my top priority. When I enrolled on that course I knew that I had to miss the afternoon training so I went to the club in the morning to be instructed by the coach of the male goals and spend the afternoons reading, studying and attending lessons. As time went by, I adapted to that routine, improve my organization and prioritized work time.

 

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She is in Australia now, and like in any travel to play in the national team, she takes with her the bibliography necessary to move on with her research work. “I’ve never been to Australia. I was told to take care of jet lag so some days before travelling I began to take a natural melatonin supplement. These trips are nice because you visit other places but we lack enough time to walk around due to training, food and meetings. We spend most of our time in the hotel.”

Garton is not the only professional in the national team: there is one physical therapist, a physician and two physical education professors. Besides, contrary to what tends to happen to these women when they become mothers –the fact that they abandon their football career–, one of the players has twins.

In the future, as long as she can, she will continue playing. After that, she would like to work as a researcher and professor. “I’m always interested in academic world. But so far I can only think about the 90 days to start the Women’s World Cup. It will take place in France and the Argentine team will be present after twelve years of absence.

“The pioneers of Argentine women’s football went to the 1971 world cup. Now is a key moment for us because we have the support of the media, which show our situation and the sacrifices we have to do. We are aware of the fact that beyond our performance, we are opening the way for the future players. We will play for them”, she says.

 

About the professionalization of women’s football

In January, Macarena Sánchez, UAI Urquiza player –team mate of Gabriela Garton- was notified that she was out of this year’s tournament. So she decided to take a pioneering position: she required the UAI club to acknowledge the employment relationship they have with her and asked the AFA to guarantee that right, the fulfillment of the FIFA regulations as regards the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality. Her objective is clear: she wants the professionalization of women’s football in Argentina.

  “Macarena wants female football players to be considered as workers and be paid for their work”, Garton explains. “In terms of women’s football we are quite behind compared to other countries. There is great difference as regards resources, development, institutional support, several factors that play a key role. In South America, we are one of the strongest countries, but no out of it.

For Garton, this situation has to do with the position of women in society. In those countries where women’s football is developed, women have a stronger role in society, like in the world powers: USA, France, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, England, Australia. Recently, in countries like Spain, where machismo remains are still present, there is a considerable influence in football. So they are now becoming part of the great powers. South Korea or China are also advanced because their way to encourage professional sportswomen and men is by providing economic support from the government. The countries that are behind in terms of women’s football are those countries in which machismo is still solid and as there is economic underdevelopment they do not have the resources to support women’s football. Here, if it was for the financial side, none of us would be playing.”

Por Cintia Kemelmajer