Argentine women’s soccer pioneer continues struggle for gender equality

By Augusto Morel

Buenos Aires, May 5 (EFE).- Regarded as a women’s soccer pioneer in Argentina and known in particular for sowing the seeds of the beautiful game in her country’s interior, “Betty” Garcia competed for the national squad at an unofficial women’s World Cup in Mexico City in 1971 and now is lending her experience to a club fighting for gender equality in a male-dominated sport.

Born Gloria Argentina Garcia, the 82-year-old is currently the coach of the Norita Futbol Club, which gets its name from a co-founder of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Nora Cortiñas, and has a mission that combines a struggle for women’s rights with a love of soccer.

While preparing the day’s training session, Garcia said she feels a certain satisfaction in knowing that women no longer have to make excuses or sneak around to practice their sport, as she herself once did.

“I would travel about the provinces sowing the seeds of women’s soccer wherever I went,” Betty recalled in remarks to Efe while keeping a close eye on her players.

In her youth, she divided her time between working at a glove factory to help her family pay the bills and playing exhibition matches outside the capital.

In doing so, she helped bring soccer to Argentina’s interior, “because no such thing existed; there were no teams and no notion in that respect.”

Garcia got her start as a professional in 1959 as a player for Atletico All Boys and then for Atletico Piraña.

She said she played for the love of the game and was unfazed by the poor condition of the fields, the lack of spectators, the criticism she received and the impossibility of receiving any pay for her efforts.

In 1961, she became the first Argentine woman to play professional soccer outside her homeland.

Her strong play earned her a place on Uruguayan club Nacional, where she experienced a higher level of soccer but still received no compensation.

After two seasons there, where she was forced to work at a side job to get by, Garcia returned to Argentina and played for Club Atletico Tigre and Universitario de Buenos Aires.

Her performance in exhibition games and ability with the ball led to her being selected along with 15 other women to represent Argentina at an unofficial women’s World Cup event in Mexico.

But that honor was clouded by the lack of interest of Argentine soccer authorities of that era: the players lacked cleats, official jerseys, doctors or a head coach.

“No one helped us, except for a union that gave us uniforms so at least we would all be dressed the same on the field. The World Cup organizing committee took responsibility for us: transportation to the stadiums, housing, footwear and they even gave us doctors,” Garcia, who was a striker on that team and its captain, told Efe.

Garcia helped lead her squad to a 4-1 victory over England before 100,000 people at Azteca stadium on Aug. 21, 1971, a win that led to that date being set aside as the Day of the Female Soccer Player in Argentina.

The squad finished the tournament in fourth place behind champion Denmark, runner-up Mexico and third-place Italy.

“In spite of everything, we performed well; we were overjoyed at having been able to represent Argentina,” Garcia said.

But they were forced to keep those feelings of pride to themselves.

She said the social pressure exerted on women in Argentina impeded her from saying what she was doing and where. Only members of her own family knew, and not all of them supported her sporting ambitions.

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