Candelaria Cabrera is a 7-year-old soccer player in Argentina. She goes after the ball with a firm sense of purpose. She drives toward her competitors without fear. She skillfully travels the uneven surface of the soccer field.
She wears loose, white team clothing from Huracán de Chabas, her hometown, a little less than 400 kilometers north of the capital, Buenos Aires. Her player number is four. She uses white shoes and leg guards. Her long hair tied back is what makes her noticeably different from the other players.
"Cande," as she is known by friends and family, is the only girl playing in a children's soccer league in the southern part of Santa Fe province. The area is the birthplace of soccer stars like Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Jorge Valdano. Former Argentine coaches Marcelo Bielsa, Gerardo Martino and Jorge Sampaoli are also from there.
But an area rule that prohibits mixed-sex children’s teams threatens to take Cande off the field.
The ruling is evidence of the unequal opportunities for men and women in this soccer-loving area.
Rosana Noriega is Candelaria's mother.
"I had to sit down with her and tell her that there are some people who have to make rules in soccer and that these rules do not agree with what she wants," Noriega said.
She continued, "And, well, we both cried, and she said: 'The people who make the laws are bad people.'"
The area’s soccer officials informed Huracán two months ago that Candelaria could no longer play on the team. She could only play on a girls' team -- which does not exist where Candelaria lives.
Noriega went on social media to speak out about her daughter's case. She was surprised when other girls wrote to her saying they were facing the same problem in nearby towns and in more distant places.
Of the 230 regional leagues recognized by the Argentine Football Association, only 68 have women's teams. This is just one of the many inequalities in soccer in Argentina. The most notable is financial.
Argentina's female players have struggled financially when their payments get delayed. They will play in a November runoff game for the 2019 World Cup.
They have also expressed anger about how Adidas, a sponsor of several national teams’ players, publicly displayed new clothing for this year’s Female America Cup. The company used professional models instead of players.
Ricardo Pinela is president of the Football Association's Women's Football Commission. He said the women’s teams need younger players.
"They start playing at age 16, 17 and by then they've missed out on a bunch of issues that have to do with understanding the game," he said.
But, he added, "The important thing is that every club in every corner of the country gives a girl the possibility of joining a female soccer team, to play with other girls, even if it's just for fun, and from there generate the necessary structure that ... sets them on equal standing as the male players."
After Candelaria's case became widely publicized, her league promised to reexamine the rule in a meeting later this year.
Although she is officially barred from the team, it has let her keep playing in games — at least until an opponent objects.
In Candelaria's most recent match, her team beat the Alumni soccer team 7 to 0.
Candelaria said, "No one should say that a girl can't play soccer.”
I’m Caty Weaver.
Debora Rey reported this story for The Associated Press. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
opportunity – n. chance; an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done
regional – adj. of a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way
sponsor – n. a person or organization that pays the cost of an activity or event (such as a radio or television program, sports event, concert, etc.) in return for the right to advertise during the activity or event
generate – v. to produce (something) or cause (something) to be produced