Sexism keeps women away from soccer in Panama, coach says

By Rogelio Adonican Osorio

Panama City, Mar 24 (EFE).- A former national team player and assistant coach of the Panamanian soccer squad that will compete in this year’s Women’s World Cup said female athletes who pursue that sport in her homeland must be strong-willed because societal stereotypes discourage girls from participating.

“In Panama, there’s still that machismo that says soccer is for men. Regrettably, we still live in a country where if you’re a female soccer player … you’re a lesbian, and that’s not the case,” Raiza Gutierrez, who also coaches Panama’s U-20 women’s soccer team, said in an interview with Efe.

She added that those prejudices lead many parents to steer their daughters away from the world’s most popular sport.

“I just tell them: if your girls are passionate about playing soccer … give them support because women’s soccer in Panama is growing,” Gutierrez said.

Yet despite greater participation and a higher level of play, she noted that Panamanian women’s soccer league players still cannot make a living from the sport.

“The truth is you can’t live from women’s soccer in Panama. There are girls who don’t receive anything. And even in the case of teams that make an effort to provide something for their players, they still don’t pay them a living wage,” Gutierrez said.

A talented goal scorer during her playing days, like most Panamanian athletes she was first introduced to the sport through pick-up games on the street.

“I started very young … There was a field they called Tivoli,” which was located at a vacant lot where a supermarket once stood, she said.

Gutierrez said her brother was her first soccer hero and that she tagged along with him to all of his games, developing a love for the sport in the process.

“At first, my brother didn’t want me to play because of, well, you know, what people always say about female players. Later, (her family) realized that was my passion and gave me all their support,” she said.

Now in her role as a coach, Gutierrez is achieving a dream she was never able to fulfill as a player: to take part in a Women’s World Cup, scheduled to take place from July 20 to Aug. 20 in Australia and New Zealand.

“That beautiful experience was something I’ve always wanted since I was a very young girl. I think since my first moments as a player my dream was always to play in a World Cup. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen for us when I was a player, but it’s happened now that I’m a coach and, believe me, I’m enjoying it just the same,” she said.

Although Panama has been drawn into a difficult group that also includes France, Jamaica and Brazil, Gutierrez said the squad will make the most of the opportunity.

“Being in soccer’s biggest celebration is something that anybody, or any player, would like to experience, and now we just need to enjoy it.” EFE


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