By Cathlene Webster, Team Leader, SWB Nicaragua
For those who are counting, there are less than fifty days left until the men's World Cup in Brazil. However, did you know that the U-17 Women's World Cup was just last month? Seven members of Futbol Sin Fronteras Granada have just returned from the celebration of this amazing event in San Jose, Costa Rica.
SEPROJOVEN, an organization that uses soccer as a platform to combat gender-based violence and oppression in San Jose, teamed with the National Women’s Institute (INAMU) to host The International Women’s Futbol3 Festival: The Field is Ours. The goal was to “live the world cup” and celebrate sport for development and women’s inclusion. Four FSF players as well as three coaches joined SEPROJOVEN teams from all over Costa Rica for a week of soccer trainings, women’s rights workshops, a bit of tourism, and finally the World Cup finals and semifinals. Futbol Sin Fronteras has a continuing relationship with SEPROJOVEN, and its participation in this festival marks the third in a series of cross-cultural exchanges between the two programs. However, the festival was the first time that players were able to travel across the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border to participate. After a huge effort by FSF director Josh Hardester as well as many of the coaches, Maribel, Hasly, Candida, and Maria Jose were approved for passports and travel visas and hopped on an eight hour bus ride to San Jose. After the inauguration and words of welcome from SEPROJOVEN director Roy Arias, the girls were able to mix and meet with other teams and began immediately to form new friendships. They joined girls from the “Indigenous Cup”, a league of girls’ teams in the indigenous villages in Costa Rica, as well as teams from the poorest and most violent neighborhoods of San Jose.
They next day they divided by age for a morning of trainings in Parque Sabana, under the shadow of the National Stadium. A second soccer session later in the week was held in the Ricardo Saprissa stadium, where girls trained with coaches and players of one of the most famous professional teams in Costa Rica. The girls never played team against team, but rather mixed groups, which focused on the unifying effects of the game-those that drew together such a large and varied group of young players in the first place.
After taking a spectator’s role in the soccer portion of the week, INAMU stepped forward to deliver a powerful presentation on the conditions and challenges that the players face as girls and young women. FSF participant Candida Espinoza commented that it was refreshing to see their reality discussed so frankly, and to see that the issues deserved a spotlight instead of being brushed off. Afterwards, INAMU facilitated a workshop called “We Have Rights”, to help the girls think about their own empowerment. The girls worked in small groups to write, draw, and act out their realities and ways they wanted to change them. One group summed it up perfectly, saying, “Our grandmothers weren’t allowed to play, so they fought to get our mother’s permission to play. They didn’t like when our mothers played, so our mothers fought to get us permission to play. And now we fight so that hopefully our daughters don’t need anyone’s permission to play.”
The festival drew its strength from the combination of focused soccer play that celebrated the girls as athletes, as well as workshops to help them think of their worth as women in all aspects of life. The girls focused on discovering their own strengths and individuality, instead of feeling isolated in trying to navigate a world that so often seems against them. SEPROJOVEN Director Roy Arias noted, “Sport is so much more meaningful than just fun or physical health. It opens these girls' eyes to their own positivity, and it allows them to see their potential.”
On the last night, all of the festival participants joined a completely packed stadium to watch the U17 semifinals and finals. Italy took on Venezuela for third place before Japan and Spain played for the gold. These teenagers were incredible athletes, from their touch to their technical game to their fitness. After Japan triumphed 2-0 over Spain, the night ended with a trophy ceremony and a large firework display. Japan took a victory lap, the girls took pictures with some of the star players, and we walked back buzzing with energy.Saying the final goodbyes after the games was hard. Girls who had awkwardly introduced themselves to one another only five days previously were now hugging and crying, trading information and promising to keep in touch. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are famous for having a rivalry, but that was the furthest thing from the minds of these girls who now had so much more in common than they could have imagined. The ties they now had to a new city, new friends and coaches, and a new organization will remain stronger than any of those that could keep them apart, and they left with a renewed sense of who they were, who they wanted to be, and the determination that no one would stop them from getting there.