Medellin's mounted pioneers
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Tell any Colombian you are planning a trip to Medellin and be ready to hear earnest claims that the city is home to the most beautiful women anywhere on Earth. Not the easiest of statements to test, perhaps, but what cannot be denied is that a group of Medellin’s female inhabitants are currently leaving a searing impression on supporters at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2011.

With the Estadio Atanasio Girardot playing host to a number of games in the competition, the country’s second city has turned to a unique resource to help oversee security at the ground. Indeed, while more than 100 of the police officers on duty are women, 40 of them make up the entirety of the mounted unit. “They are all police officers by training but they were recruited for their love of horse riding,” explained Lieutenant Colonel Mauricio Cartagena Uruena, the National Police officer in charge of security at Medellin’s stadium. “Even though there are more and more women in the Colombian police force, it’s a first for this country to have an exclusively female intervention unit.”

He has no doubt that the breakthrough initiative has been a success too. “Having a team made up of women brings down certain barriers and closes the gap between supporters and the police. It softens interactions, improves communication and makes it easier to calm down supporters.” Cartagena Uruena is nonetheless quick to stress that the female officers are under no illusion as to the principal reason for their presence in the stadium. “If the need for them to intervene arises, they have the strength, character and training to do just that.”

That they have not been required to take such action since the tournament began is unquestionably down to their efforts in part, everything having gone smoothly so far. “We haven’t had any problems yet, and above all that’s because there’s a party atmosphere,” said Second Lieutenant Lina Lozano Espinoza, who oversees a team of five mounted officers. “It’s been an excellent experience and we get the feeling that that goes for both sides. We appreciate our role and the public have been reacting very well to our presence.”

There’s respect for women and, on the other, there’s the stature of the horse, and that inspires respect.
Second Police Lieutenant Lina Lozano Espinoza

She has her own theories as to why that might be, the undeniable truth being that the largely South American crowds have embraced the initiative. “Our presence gives spectators more confidence because speaking to women and being advised by them undoubtedly provokes images of their mother, daughter or partner,” she said, perched atop her own trusty steed, Siriri. “On the one hand, there’s respect for women and, on the other, there’s the stature of the horse, and that inspires respect and facilitates another style of communication which allows the public to be more thoughtful.”

The Estadio Atanasio Girardot faithful would do well to get used to the sight as it is likely to become commonplace, with the experience set to be repeated during national championship games. “This unit was put together especially for the U-20 World Cup and underwent a special training programme for six months, but the goal is to be able to turn to them for every match and every event as important as a World Cup,” added Cartagena Uruena. “The reaction from the public has been one of complete acceptance. They’ve shown a lot of respect and affection for the girls and it’s been reciprocal. Because of that, we’re going to try to continue to develop this unit here in Medellin, and why not extend it across the country?”

That is a message sure to delight Lozano Espinoza and her colleagues, all recruited as much for their passion for equestrianism as for their professional experience in the National Police. It is good news for Colombian football too, with the country not alone in South America in suffering from occasional bouts of violence within stadiums. “The supporters may not be bad people themselves, but sometimes they act violently when part of a group,” said the officer. “It’s something cultural within sport. I don’t know if there’d be fewer problems in football if there were only women in charge of security, but perhaps it’d bring a little more mellowness and harmony.”