In Argentina, 1 woman is challenging soccer’s status quo
By LUIS ANDRES HENAO
Thursday, February 7
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Almost 90 years after men’s soccer turned professional in Argentina, the women’s game is still being played by amateur athletes who get little to no money for their work on the field.
Macarena Sanchez wants to change that — now.
The 27-year-old Sanchez is taking legal action against her club and the Argentine soccer association in an effort to gain professional status. The case could set a precedent in a nation that is home to Lionel Messi and some of the world’s greatest players, but where soccer is still largely seen as a men’s only game.
“The goal is to be recognized as a professional soccer player, so it can open the doors for other women to enjoy the benefits of earning a living from what we love,” Sanchez told The Associated Press.
Sanchez’s introduction to soccer came when she was 5, watching her father play with friends on weekends in the province of Santa Fe, the birthplace of Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Jorge Valdano. With her father’s encouragement, she polished her skills at a local club.
During a friendly game in Buenos Aires in 2012, the coach of UAI Urquiza asked her to join his club, considered one of the best in South America.
“That year, we won the Argentine championship for the first time in the club’s history,” she said. “And then we won the championship three more times.”
Sanchez also competed in three Copa Libertadores tournaments, the premier women’s event in the South American region. But on Jan. 5, she got a call from her coach — one she didn’t expect. Sanchez said he didn’t provide any specifics, he just said she was being let go because of a “soccer-related decision.”
For years, Sanchez had received a small stipend and worked an administrative job at UAI Urquiza. The news that she was no longer welcome came mid-season, so she wasn’t able to join another club. After consulting with her sister, who is an attorney, she decided to launch her complaint seeking compensation and the professionalization of women’s soccer.
“It’s not easy to be the first woman to launch legal action against the Argentine soccer federation,” Sanchez said. “I’ve had to carry a heavy burden, but the collective goal won. It won because I want to see many girls who in the future can enjoy being professional. That’s my dream.”
Officials at UAI Urquiza declined to comment, and the interim head of the Argentine federation’s women’s soccer committee could not immediately be reached.
Sanchez has, however, received strong support from FIFPro, an international organization that represents professional soccer players around the world.
“Macarena is part of a generation of leading women players in South America who are fed up with receiving derisory treatment,” FIFPro said in a statement to the AP. “It’s unacceptable for soccer clubs and national soccer federations in South America, or anywhere else, to treat women players as second-class citizens with vastly inferior conditions to male players.”
Argentina’s women’s national team recently qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. Sanchez is not likely to make the team that is headed to France, and the legal action does not involve the national team.
But even the national team’s players have struggled financially. They went on strike in 2017 after their stipends of about $10 went unpaid. They also lack proper changing rooms, for a while they trained on a dirt field, and they are often forced to travel long distances to play a game and return on the same day to save on hotel costs.
The female players were also angered when Adidas, the brand that sponsors a few members of the national teams of both genders, unveiled the new shirt for last year’s Women’s Copa America with models rather than players.
And while the men’s Argentine league draws big crowds and makes millions of dollars, a woman at a top club is often forced to split her time between soccer and a second job to survive.
“There is no possibility, no matter how good a woman is in Argentina today, to make a living from it,” said Brenda Elsey, a professor at Hofstra University who specializes in the history of soccer politics in Latin America. “I don’t think any Argentine player in 1931 (when soccer became professional in the country) felt the same kind of outright hostility and neglect as women players feel today.”
Elsey, who recently traveled to Argentina to research the issue and has a photo of women playing soccer dating back as far as 1923, pointed to a recent example. When Estudiantes won the league title, she said the Argentine soccer federation forgot to give them the trophy. The players tried to take in stride, and they celebrated with a plastic jug.
The story didn’t come as a shock.
“Argentina is not an exception to the rule of gender discrimination in Latin America. It’s actually quite common,” said Elsey, who is also-co-author of “Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America.”
In neighboring Chile, another World Cup qualifier headed to France this year, soccer is also amateur. Coaches have complained that men’s clubs affiliated with female teams sometimes won’t even lend their counterparts fields for practice and only supply them with one set of shirts.
Instead, many top female players head to the United States to play in the NWSL and get paid, while Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are among regional countries that have professional leagues. But there is still prejudice, and ignorance, to overcome.
For instance, the president of Colombian club Deportes Tolima, Gabriel Camargo, called women’s soccer a “tremendous breeding ground for lesbianism.”
CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American soccer, is trying to level the playing field, however. It recently announced that for a men’s team to qualify for the Copa Libertadores, it must also have a women’s team.
The women’s version of the event, known as the Copa Libertadores Femenina, has been the premier women’s club tournament in the region since 2009. Brazil has dominated the competition, but Atletico Huila won last year.
The prize money for the champions was $55,000, and there was some controversy when one of the players said the money would go to the men’s team, although the issue was later resolved.
There have been some recent improvements in the women’s game, however.
Ahead of last year’s World Cup qualifying tournament, the Argentine women’s team was allowed to train at the same complex where Messi and the rest of the men’s team prepare for their games, grounds that until recently were reserved for men only.
The team’s progress and eventual qualification received the support of Messi and several professional Argentine clubs. Many female players say they feel part of a cultural change driven by Argentina’s strong feminist movement, which has mobilized tens of thousands to fight against violence against women, and helped them gain ground in politics and the workplace.
A group of women known as the Pioneers of Argentine Female Soccer recently met at a field in Buenos Aires to kick around the ball and share memories about the challenges they faced playing the sport they love. A team of young men clapped when the women began to dribble, juggle and shoot at goal.
“Some people would shout at us to go wash dishes,” said Elba Selva, who scored four goals in Argentina’s 4-1 victory over England at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City during the 1971 World Cup. “We’re so proud to be a part of this now.”
Former goalkeeper Lucila Sandoval founded the group to try to keep the legacy of Argentine women’s soccer alive.
“For us, who are no longer in the field, and who played with so much love, so much passion for the sport, we want to leave a legacy for these girls as they’re fighting for professionalism,” she said. “What Maca Sanchez has done is the kickoff in a struggle that has been waging for a long time.
“Now, we have Internet, Twitter, the media, and all of this makes it much more visible, and I think it will be achieved soon.”
AP Sports Writer Annie Peterson in Portland, Oregon, and Associated Press reporters Natacha Pisarenko and Yesica Brumec in Buenos Aires, Carlos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Jairo Anchique in Bogota, Colombia, and Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
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Once indisputable, Real Madrid’s Marcelo a target of critics
By TALES AZZONI
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, February 7
MADRID (AP) — It’s not a good sign that nearly every time Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari is asked about Marcelo he mentions the player’s great past with the club.
Clearly, it has become harder to talk about the player’s current achievements.
Marcelo was an indisputable starter for more than a decade with Real Madrid, considered by many the best left back in the world. But this season, the Brazilian’s performances have come in for criticism.
The clamor for dropping Marcelo only increased after a lackluster display on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey semifinal against Barcelona. He struggled on defense and added little in attack.
Solari again avoided talking about Marcelo’s performance.
“Marcelo is our second captain (after Sergio Ramos), he is 100 percent committed to Real Madrid, always puts the club first,” Solari said briefly. “We always work to make sure that all of our players are at their best.”
Marcelo’s fitness is often brought up by his critics, who say the 30-year-old player hasn’t been able to keep up with opposing attackers like he used to. Some blamed him for not doing enough to keep Barcelona from scoring the second-half equalizer at Camp Nou Stadium. He didn’t follow Malcom into the area and the forward was free to pick up a loose ball and score.
Marcelo never seemed comfortable against Malcom and had trouble containing him. He also made little impact on attack, which has been one of his greatest attributes.
Marcelo’s struggles aren’t new. Last year, Solari didn’t hide his frustration with the player’s performances, saying he wanted to see “greater effort,” especially on defense.
It seemed a vote of confidence by Solari to pick Marcelo for Wednesday’s clasico, but the Brazilian wasn’t able to make the most of it. He hasn’t played as often since the coach took over and started giving more minutes to young left back Sergio Reguilon from the youth squad.
Marcelo has played only three league matches this year, with most of his appearances in the Copa del Rey. He was ordinary against Girona in the Copa round of 16, where Madrid conceded three times in the two-game series.
Not long ago there were widespread rumors about Marcelo joining his friend Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus, and talks about him trying to move to midfield, where his physical condition wouldn’t be so crucial and he would be able to make better use of his great skills with the ball.
Marcelo joined Real Madrid from Brazilian club Fluminense in 2007 and quickly became the obvious substitute to fellow Brazilian left back Roberto Carlos. Marcelo helped Real Madrid win four Spanish leagues and four Champions Leagues, in addition to four Club World Cups. He played in two World Cups for Brazil, being one of the captains in the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Solari gave no hints about whether he would keep Marcelo in the lineup on Saturday for the league derby at Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid can pass Atletico for second place with a win at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. The club then travels to the Netherlands to face Ajax in the round of 16 of the Champions League.
“We are going step by step,” the coach said. “We just finished this match and now we will have a few days to work and start thinking about the league match.”
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Pebble Beach only a US Open preview of the scenery
By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
Thursday, February 7
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Only four American courses have hosted a PGA Tour event and a major championship in the same year, a concept that USGA chief executive Mike Davis does not consider to be ideal.
One big exception is Pebble Beach.
“I think this is great,” Davis said Wednesday as he walked down the 16th fairway. “Because this is nothing like it will be June.”
The views won’t change, and they were as spectacular as ever on the eve of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, with turquoise waves crashing against rocks and sending eruptions of white spray against the back drop of Pebble’s small greens.
But this is not a week for any scouting reports.
Heavy rain over the weekend, with wind so strong it knocked over a corporate tent left of the sixth fairway, has saturated Pebble Beach so much that the turf sunk ever so slightly with every step on the fairway. Davis Love III didn’t see where his shot landed on the 10th green because it was plugged, only the top half of the ball showing.
No, this isn’t a sneak preview of the U.S. Open. It’s not a complete waste of time, either.
Tommy Fleetwood of England is making his debut in the tournament, and he was so enamored being on the Monterey Peninsula that he quite happily played through the chill and a few hail stones during a practice round Tuesday. Pebble has such a reputation that Fleetwood compared it with St. Andrews, not because of the course, but because of the iconic nature.
“It’s just one of those few places in the world that has like an aura and an atmosphere about it and you feel very lucky to be playing golf this week,” he said.
He only picture what it will be like when Pebble hosts the U.S. Open for the sixth time in June.
“It’s nowhere near what it’s probably going to be like,” Fleetwood said. “There’s so many guys that have played the PGA Tour for a long time will have been here. They know it. They feel comfortable. For me, this is the first time, so any advantage I would have had just turning up in June is much more positive and good for me.”
Torrey Pines also hosted a PGA Tour and U.S. Open in the same year in 2008 (Tiger Woods won them both), and that will happen again in two years. The other courses were Riviera (LA Open and PGA Championship in 1995) and Pinehurst No. 2 (North & South and PGA Championship in 1936).
Changes already have started at Pebble, with fairway lines moved in the way it will be in June. That much was obvious on No. 8, which has a white, knee-high rock on the hill leading up to the fairway as an alignment aid.
The rock is not there this week, because any shot over it would wind up in the rough, not the fairway.
“The fairways taken in is what you notice immediately,” Jordan Spieth said. “The rough is actually lower than it has been in past years for this tournament right now. But the fairway lines … like our yardage books look different from last year to this year. They have started to take them in already, and you’re starting to see the fairways that we’re going to see for the U.S. Open. It just will play wider given how soft it is. The ball is not rolling.”
Spieth won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two years ago and is back in his regular group, with country singer Jake Owen as his amateur partner alongside two-time Pebble champion Dustin Johnson and Wayne Gretzky.
Johnson is coming off a victory last week in the Saudi International and only arrived from his home in Florida on Wednesday morning. Masters champion Patrick Reed also was in Saudi Arabia and will be playing in his usual group alongside Phil Mickelson.
The sky cleared Wednesday and it should be reasonable for at least a few days across Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula, with more rain expected Friday and into parts of the weekend.
For some players, Pebble is beautiful in any weather.
“When you’re here … it’s kind of like a holy golf ground if you will,” Tony Finau said. “And it’s never not a thrill to play Pebble Beach.”
With so much rain over the last few days, and the forecast for the weekend, players will likely be able to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the short grass. That’s not unusual for this tournament. It might be unusual for Davis and few others on the USGA executive committee.
The U.S. Open never uses lift, clean and place — another example that while it’s the same course, this isn’t the U.S. Open.
Reed scores 19, Clemson blows out Georgia Tech 65-42
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
Wednesday, February 6
ATLANTA (AP) — When Clemson got off to a rough start in the Atlantic Coast Conference, coach Brad Brownell told his players not to fret.
There was still time to turn things around.
Now, the Tigers are headed in the right direction.
Marcquise Reed scored 19 points and Clemson raced to a big lead in the first half on the way to its third straight victory, routing Georgia Tech 65-42 on Wednesday night.
“Defensively, we were very locked in and played with great energy. The activity level was high. I don’t think we gave them anything easy,” Brownell said. “Just a well-played game by my team.”
The Tigers (14-8, 4-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) kept up their domination of Georgia Tech, winning for the 17th time in the last 21 meetings between the teams. Clemson swept the season series, following up a 72-60 victory over the Yellow Jackets last month.
That was Clemson’s lone victory in its first six ACC games, a stretch that included four road contests and three games against ranked opponents, including No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Virginia.
“We got off to little bit of a slow start in the league,” Brownell said. “When we were 1-5, we talked to the guys and told them not to worry about the big picture, not to worry about the standings, not to worry about anything but the team getting better.”
Georgia Tech (11-12, 3-7) lost its fourth in a row and looked like a team that has given up on another lost season. The Yellow Jackets haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2010.
“We had low energy on both defense and offense,” point guard Jose Alvarado said. “We’ve got to pick it up or we’re going to lose like this. We’ve got to keep fighting.”
The Yellow Jackets closed the gap to 33-24 at halftime but didn’t have nearly enough offensive weapons to overcome such a hefty deficit. The home team made only nine of 31 shots inside the 3-point arc and finished at 30 percent overall from the field.
“Our defense was great,” Reed said. “That allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets.”
Skara and Aamir Simms scored 13 points apiece for Clemson, which shot 49 percent.
James Banks III led Georgia Tech with 13 points to go with seven blocks — all in the first half. Brandon Alston added 11 points.
Pastner said it’s the worst offensive stretch he’s seen in his coaching career.
Georgia Tech has been held to fewer than 55 points in five of its last six games. During that span, the Yellow Jackets are shooting just 36.5 percent (118 of 323).
“Unfortunately, I don’t have answers as to why we are like this offensively,” Pastner said. “We just can’t keep scoring in the 40s.”
The best indication of how much the Yellow Jackets are struggling: They made only 3 of 8 shots under the basket and finished 7 of 22 in the lane against the Tigers.
Clemson: The Tigers have feasted on the ACC’s bottom dwellers in their last two games, beating Wake Forest and Georgia Tech by a combined 50 points.
Georgia Tech: Point guard Jose Alvarado, the team’s leading scorer, has endured two straight brutal shooting games. After missing all 10 of his attempts in a loss at Florida State, he went 1 for 10 against the Tigers and finished with just 3 points. The Yellow Jackets simply have no chance when Alvarado is so ineffective.
“I (stink) right now,” Alvarado said. “I need to get out of it. I don’t know what’s in my head, but I’ve got to start playing like the Jose who came to Georgia Tech.”
Clemson: Returns home to host No. 11 Virginia Tech on Saturday, looking to climb to .500 in league play.
Georgia Tech: Hits the road Sunday to face Notre Dame, a team the Yellow Jackets defeated 63-61 in their first meeting Jan. 22.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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