Paraguay is a beautiful South American country set in surroundings of green fields, tree-lined avenues and the famous Iguacu waterfalls. Yet is not just Paraguay’s wonderful natural gifts that capture the imagination because, in football terms, the nation is a modern-day phenomenon. Given that their population stands at around six million, their FIFA World Cup™ record is truly remarkable.
This, of course, is all worthy of praise, but there is something missing. Local data indicates that every time Paraguay played in the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup, between 42 and 50 per cent of the country’s television audience consisted of women. In other words, women in Paraguay are genuine and passionate football fans. Dig a little deeper and you find that it doesn’t stop there. The country’s women grow up watching football, with the TVs in their homes nearly always switched on to a football match. Consequently, the feminine half of Paraguay boast a solid understanding of the game of football, with an awareness and knowledge of tactics, technique and the rules of game.
With the game enjoying such popularity among the nation’s women, something needed to be done to nurture the female side of football, and so it was that, for the the first time ever in Paraguay’s successful football history, it took centre stage through the hosting of a FIFA Com-Unity seminar dedicated solely to women’s football.
The Paraguayan Football Association’s president, Juan Angel Napout, and CONMEBOL president Dr. Nicolas Leoz helped ensure the success of the seminar by assisting in the official opening. Napout said: “We understand that women’s football has not yet arrived in Paraguay at a national level and we therefore need to take advantage of this seminar to make progress and take it forward. We need to knock down any barriers and we need to change. Our immediate promise is to construct 12 new pitches, two of which will be for women’s football."
The government’s Sports Minister, Paolo Richardt, was also present. He said: “We will always support women in sports and in particular women’s football. We propose to work with the APF (Paraguayan Football Association), with the schools and colleges and at all levels”. The government’s proposal includes next year’s South American schools games, due to be held in Paraguay. Already, the Sports Ministry, have said that girls’ U-14 football will be included in the games for the first time, in Paraguay.
Add to this coverage of the seminar by the national TV networks, radio and national newspapers, and conditions were perfect for three days of discussions and workshops in search of the key to unlock Paraguay’s potential in women’s football.
The Minister of Education, Luis Alberto Riart, supported the sports ministry’s idea of promoting girls’ and women’s football and introducing the game into girls’ school sports programmes. He said: “I am all for women playing football, my daughter is a player, and we need to look for a way forward to incorporate women’s football into the schools structure.” He added: “I was previously involved in street football myself and I am aware of the good it does”.
There is nothing more moving in this context than to hear the words of an aspiring young player, and this was certainly the case with Paola Genes, the young captain of Paraguay’s women’s national team. She spoke to the assembly, thanking them for their involvement but more importantly asking for their support and promising to, in turn, give her best for the women’s game in Paraguay.
After three days of workshops and discussions, the light at the end of the tunnel led everyone towards a shared solution and a common cause. The fact is that women’s football should and can develop in Paraguay. By coincidence, the second edition of the Women’s Copa Libertadores was being played at the same time as the seminar, a competition that shows how men’s and women’s football can co-exist successfully and work together towards the same cause.
The-three day seminar ended with a football festival for young girls between the ages of eight and 14. Groups of young players from all walks of life gathered together to participate and compete. By the end, it was clear that women’s football had arrived in Paraguay.
The next step is to turn the key to success.