Women’s football is booming in Ecuador following the country’s first time playing in the Women’s World Cup last year. In February, a new team called Las Ñañas FC emerged. “Ñañas” means “sisters” in the Quechua language, which is spoken in a handful of South American countries.
Fernanda Vasconez founded the team, and is the current captain and administrator of the club. She comes from a family that has always supported and encouraged women to dream big and accomplish their goals, and she is no exception.
Vasconez told Global Young Voices that “football is a sport where vain differences are put aside and everyone is the same. It doesn't matter if you drove your car or walked to practice, where you come from makes no longer a difference. The only thing that matters is what you can bring to the club.”
Las Ñañas is a new concept for women’s football in Ecuador, its long term plans go beyond playing football. To Vasconez, football clubs are a place for girls to develop not just as athletes, but personally. She has seen how players’ self-esteem improves within weeks of joining a football team, and she has channelled that into Las Ñañas FC. The main purpose of the club is to develop influential women, and to help them see their true potential in this world in addition to developing their talents as football players.
Las Ñañas FC is a project that aims to establish women’s football academies across the country, developing the talents of young players while working on their own professional team. Las Ñañas FC is currently playing at the second tier of Ecuador women’s football after winning the third tier tournament a couple of weeks ago. Their long term goal is to win the Copa Libertadores in the next 10 years.
The Las Ñañas team doesn’t aim to develop the next Abby Wambach or to create champions, but to develop well-rounded players who know their true potential both on and off the field. Las Ñañas invests in education and social inclusion to let players know that they can make a difference in the world.
The club is also one of the few in Ecuador to have its own psychologist, Isabel Lasso. It’s Lasso’s first time working with a football club, and she is passionate about her work. She believes her role is crucial for the development of the team and the players as individuals. Due to gender stereotypes and the lack of support for women’s football, psychological support is crucial for the success of the club, especially when it comes to motivation and self esteem.
Las Ñañas is also one of the few women’s clubs in Ecuador that has international players. Maleike Pacheco recently joined Ñañas as a goalkeeper after representing her home country, Venezuela, in the U-17 FIFA World Cup. Pacheco has also played for a club in Trinidad and Tobago. She feels Las Ñañas has a good chance of reaching Serie A — the top women’s football tournament in Ecuador.
Pacheco believes that women’s football in Ecuador needs better organisation and support from governing bodies and media for its success to continue. “Women play for their passion of the sport,” she said, noting that very few of them get economic remuneration from the sport.
Besides economic support, women’s football needs women in leadership positions who can contribute their own experiences on and off the pitch to the development of the game, and that is what Las Ñañas is aiming to achieve.
Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV