Colombia’s female soccer players fight for level field

By MANUEL RUEDA Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia — On a recent weeknight, Sara Pulecio dribbled a soccer ball gracefully through a set of orange cones, and jumped repeatedly over small obstacles placed by coaches along a field, to develop more strength in her legs.

The soccer clinic, organized by a global sports apparel brand, gave Pulecio and several professional female players a rare opportunity to train in the long break between seasons. And even though the drills were intense, the 20-year-old midfielder finished them with a smile on her face.

“We try to do things on our own time, to keep in shape,” she said. “But it’s not the same as when you’re training with your team.”

Pulecio has represented Colombia in five international tournaments, and last year, she was one of the up and coming stars of the local professional women’s league.

But the defensive midfielder has barely trained since the season ended last May, and could be out of a job altogether this year as soccer officials contemplate cancelling the local women’s league due to its poor economic performance.

News that the recently created professional league could be cancelled capped a turbulent month for women’s soccer in this country. The month was also marked by sexual harassment complaints against two coaches and claims of poor working conditions for players on the national team.

Players are now making a last-minute attempt to save the women’s league, while they seek better conditions for the national team, in a struggle that mirrors the ongoing push for equality in women’s soccer in the United States.