Argentine soccer club on mission to promote social inclusion

By Sebastian Meresman

Buenos Aires, Sep 3 (EFE).- Club Villas Unidas, an Argentine soccer club conceived of by Diego Maradona’s former personal fitness coach, Fernando Signorini, has a mission that transcends sport and is committed to the goal of promoting social inclusion.

Villas Unidas was founded three years ago in Buenos Aires by a group of social organizations and began competing in 2019 in the third division of women’s soccer at the invitation of the AFA, the governing body of soccer in Argentina.

“We try to fill our team mostly with players who come from low-income neighborhoods” of the Argentine capital, the coach of the women’s team, Gustavo Levine, told Efe, adding that the club is the brainchild of Signorini, a man “always attentive to social issues that need to be addressed.”

He observed that a lot of money in soccer is generated by male players who come from poor neighborhoods but that those funds are not later reinvested in those areas.

Signorini therefore came up with the idea for a club that was entirely made up of players from working-class districts and would help improve the quality of life in their communities, Levine said.

He “conveyed that idea to the Cesar Luis Menotti soccer coaching academy,” Villas Unidas’s manager said. “That school contacted a group of social organizations in our country, and the idea emerged to create a club” that would initially focus on the women’s and youth level and have a mission to reinvest soccer-generated income in those same low-income neighborhoods.

“We don’t have first-division men’s soccer yet, because they would be entering too big of a maelstrom, and the club wanted to start at the bottom,” Levine said.

The coach recalled with pride that one of his players, Peruvian immigrant Adriana Arteaga Vilca, was called up to represent her homeland’s U-20 squad.

“We work. We train. And we try to do all we can to achieve promotion (to a higher division) because we believe that the higher the club can go the more visibility it will have and the better received we’ll be in working-class neighborhoods,” Levine said.

“The idea is that the 11 female players who take the field with the Villas Unidas jersey become the mirror in which so many other girls, youth and women from (those districts) see themselves and that they have the desire to come and form part of this,” he added.

But the club’s mission goes beyond sports and also includes efforts to address different problems that their female athletes face.

One of the club’s players, 38-year-old social worker Barbara Corte, underscored the work the club is doing in the area of social inclusion.

“I found out about the Villas Unidas project because of my activism and work as a social worker. I loved it as a social project, I was super interested and went to a meeting that was more political, institutional,” Corte told Efe just minutes prior to a training session. “I didn’t think there was women’s soccer. They told me and I said, ‘hey, can I try out?”

She noted that the social organizations that founded the club ensure that the idea of social inclusion through sport is not an empty promise.

Among the various goals the club works to achieve are the lowering of school drop-out rates and access to adequate nutrition, work opportunities and health insurance schemes known as Obras Sociales, Corte said. EFE


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