- Santa Fe are the champions of the inaugural Liga Aguila Femenina in Colombia
- *“It’s a dream come true,” said star midfielder Leicy Santos *
- FIFA's Forward development programme was crucial to new women's league* *
When Leicy Santos accompanied her Santa Fe team-mates onto the pitch in late June to lock horns with Atletico Huila in the second leg of the grand final of Colombia’s new Liga Aguila Femenina, she could not believe her eyes. Before her, she saw 33,327 fans packed into the Estadio Nemesio Camacho to witness history in the making. “It was too much to take in,” she told FIFA.com. “There are no words to describe how you feel when you see so many people there to support you.”
The 21-year-old Colombian international, who would go on to score the goal that saw her club crowned national champions, added: “It’s just further proof of how popular women’s football has become.” Indeed, the remarkable attendance in Bogota was the second highest in the history of women’s club football, after the 35,271 crowd that attended the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium in May.
Santos and the rest of Las Cafeteras had long requested and hoped for a professional domestic set-up, a league that would enable them to play at the highest level within their own country and increase the general level of competition.
The overall objectives were to establish Colombian women’s football among the best in the world, and improve the results of a national team that has taken part in every major tournament – FIFA Women’s World Cup, Olympic Games and Copa America Femenina – since 2010.
Due to the efforts of the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) and DIMAYOR, the body that runs Colombia’s professional competitions, and the financial and structural support provided by FIFA’s Forward Programme, the league saw the light of day in February 2017. At the end of its maiden season, DIMAYOR President Jorge Fernando Perdomo reflected on a job well done.
“We are very pleased,” he said. “Everyone involved lived up to expectations. From a football point of view, the clubs’ squads were top quality, and in organisational terms, we definitely acted like a professional league. The spectacle we laid on provided football lovers in our country with something a bit different, and they responded by attending matches and watching them on TV. And with the media helpfully covering each round of games, women’s football was able to properly position itself.”
Liga Aguila Femenina in figures
- No fewer than 18 teams took part in the first edition of the championship, a number that will remain unchanged for next season, which begins in January. A third season is scheduled to start in October 2018, this time with 36 competing teams divided into a first and second division.
- Colombian television broadcasts one match per round, and during the final a creditable audience rating of 7.3 was recorded. Next season, an agreement with regional channels will enable seven more matches to be televised per round.
- Games were scheduled on the same day as men’s matches in order to attract the maximum number of fans, who could watch both encounters with one ticket.
- Santa Fe captured the league title without losing a single match, registering 15 wins and one draw during their campaign. In the two-legged final against Atletico Huila, they secured a 2-1 away victory before winning 1-0 at home courtesy of Santos’ aforementioned goal.
- As national champions, Santa Fe, nicknamed *Las Cardenales, *will represent Colombia at the Copa Libertadores Femenina in November.
FIFA’s financial backing and the joint work with the Colombian Football Federation have been vital in terms of equipping all the teams with football kits and training gear, as well as providing accommodation for players and staff on away trips and supporting DIMAYOR in promotional events related to the league.
Additional financial assistance from within Colombia has also covered the cost of air transport and university scholarship prizes for the champions.
The official balance *“The balance is positive because we made a dream we’ve had for many years come true,” Colombian Football Federation President Ramon Jesurun told *FIFA.com. "We had a lot of interest, from all the participating teams and from the fans, as well as the support of television. Considering it was the first tournament, we consider it a success.”
Jesurun also highlighted the impact the league will have on Colombia’s national women’s team programme. "I think that, if we managed our national team with players who were not supported by a properly organised tournament, and even then we were able to position ourselves internationally, it would now be logical that, having competition for most of the year [domestically], we should consolidate all of our categories.”
For Santos, who comes from a family of modest means, and who turned her life upside down at the age of 13 to take a chance on football, the league is the realisation of a long-held aspiration. “My parents gave me their unconditional support, even though the future was uncertain,” she explained. “And they were just at the final, supporting Santa Fe, and now they’re the proudest parents in the world. This league is a dream come true and an open door that we hope will never close.”
(It’s party time for Las Cardenales again – first for eternity. We’ll always be the first-ever champions!)
The midfielder knows that much remains to be done, but that things are moving in the right direction. “At international level, women’s football has made a big impact, thanks to FIFA, the people promoting it, and the media. There’s a long road ahead, but we’re building it brick by brick.”
Perdomo shares the sentiment that this is only the beginning. “We’re very aware that we have to keep working hard and improving various aspects, but what we’ve done is sown the seeds of a professional women’s league in our country,” he said.
“It will become one of the best leagues in South America and one of the top five in the world – I’ve no doubt about that. We’ve got such talented players, and we will, if I can speak on behalf of the administrative side of things, provide all the guarantees we can that this will happen.”
The door has certainly opened for women’s football in Colombia, and it is set to stay that way too.