#FromNowOn: A Movement Towards Equality

Last Thursday, Puerto Rico’s Women’s National Soccer Team (PRWNT) made history as it faced off against Argentina’s team in the first friendly match the island’s team has ever played. The game attracted 4,622 people, making this the largest crowd a women’s soccer game has ever seen on the island. Seconds after kickoff, Argentina played the ball out of the field and allowed the Puerto Rican team to come together. The team aligned in the middle of the field and the reserves joined them from the sidelines as they took a stand.

 

 

Last June, the players sent a letter to Eric Labrador, president of the Puerto Rican Soccer Federation, expressing their needs as players and asking the Federation to do their part in the development of the team. According to the letter, the team is unable to reach its full potential due to the lack of friendly meets and games against international players. In 2015, the PRWNT ranked #94 in the world but has since lost its ranking due to its inability to play games outside of competitions. It is essential for their betterment as athletes that they are challenged by higher ranking teams so they can learn and become a competing team.

 

The letter also states the desire to engage in friendly games with other international high-ranking teams like #69 Philippines, #50 Jordan, #40 Chile, and #35 Argentina, but the meets were denied by the Federation due to “lack of funding.” Although international games are costly, the lack of funds is inconceivable since, according to the letter, the “’FIFA Forward Program’ makes financial provisions specially designated for the development of youth and women’s soccer.” The funds allocated to the Federation sum-up to $400,000 in the last eight years, yet the teams had not played any international friendly games during the period which led them to ask: “Where are these funds?”

 

The team also requested a meeting to discuss the representation of the PRWNT when discussing Federation statutes and to maintain and reinstate the coaching staff, headed by Shek Borkowski. They also ask the PRWNT to maintain training with friendlies and training camps as well, as the integration of players residing in the U.S. or abroad at least three weeks before any competition. Further, they want to arrive at the destination of any international game a week before the game. Lastly, they requested player pay for international games as well as stipends for training and camps.

 

The letter was signed by 16 players from the Upper Female Selection and nine from the U-17 Female Selection.

 

 

On Friday, they PRWNT players explained their decision to take a stand during the game. “This is a call for change. It’s time we receive the respect that we as women and athletes deserve,” wrote Nicole Rodríguez in a tweet last Friday. Rodríguez has been a part of the Female Selection for 11 years and has played for FC Honka inter Naisten Liiga (Finland’s first division) as well as the University of Notre Dame. She now spearheads the PRWNT’s movement for change demanding respect and equality. When asked what motivated the team to take a public stand now, Rodríguez expressed the injustices and disrespect the team has endured during 7+ years of playing together. She said, “this friendly was organized in a matter of weeks, and many of the players called only 7 days before the first game vs. Argentina after being inactive since early May. The lack of preparation was the final block that fell into place that spurred us to action.”

 

Since their call for change, the team has received support from athletes around the world. Katayoun Khosrowyar, head coach of the Iranian women’s football team, tweeted out her support as well as Julie Foudy, founder JF Sports Leadership Academy, using the hashtags #FromNowOn and #DeAhoraEnAdelante.

 

 

But the PRWNT’s biggest supporters shared the court with them. According to Rodríguez, “Argentina went, and continues to go, through a struggle for equality and respect. Because of this we hoped that they would support us in our action.” And they did. Argentina gave the PRWNT their time and space to protest and offered their continued support after the game was over.

 

After their second friendly game against Argentina on Sunday, Puerto Rico tied the game with the 35th ranking team in the World. This achievement was won with only two weeks of preparation. “Imagine what we could do if the Federation gave us the continuity and the importance we deserve”, commented Adriana Font, right defender for the PRWNT. At the end of the game, the team came together once again and stood with a sign addressing the Federation which read “FPF, we want action and continuity.”

 

The team calls out to the public in hopes they will support them and spread the word so that awareness builds. “The more awareness, the more pressure for change. This will most likely be a long, uphill battle so stick with us,” commented Nicole Rodríguez.

 

Thank you to all the players in Puerto Rico’s Women’s National Team for taking a stand for equality, for fighting for themselves and the women who will come after.

This article is based on the Twitter thread by Anthony DiCicco and the letter written by the PRNWT to the Federation.