The Pachuca Tuzas were crowned as the first champions of the Liga MX women’s soccer league after beating the Tijuana Xolas 9-1 in the championship game held on Saturday.
Soccer isn’t just “for men” in Mexico anymore. The first women’s professional soccer league, which premiered this year, could potentially be the start of breaking down the machismo and the stereotypes associated with the sport.
“It’s a dream that we just made come true,” said Diana García, a 17-year-old player on Las Tuzas, who scored a goal on Saturday. “I’m extremely happy. We just made history as a club and as individual players.”
“PA-CHU-CA! PA-CHU-CA!” chanted the fans from the stands. The field at La Nueva Casa del Fútbol, where the Mexican Soccer Federation offices are located, was filled with men, women, and families dressed mostly in Las Tuzas’ blue and white team colors.
“I came to support the ladies,” said Arturo Betancourt, a 16-year-old who attended the game with his male friends. “Women’s soccer is something new and modern. When I play soccer, I don’t care if I play with men or women,” he said. “I accept them both. There is no difference.”
Betancourt told me that he loves watching women’s soccer and that his favorite player is Alex Morgan, the U.S. Women’s National Team’s striker.
The first women’s Liga MX final was a unique for a soccer event in Mexico. You didn’t hear the controversial puto chant during the game, and no one hurled sexist or racist insults at the opposing team.
But there’s still a long way to go. Mexico is a country that has historically excluded women from participating in this national pastime.
Players have left the country for better opportunities. Two female players on Mexico’s national soccer team play in Spain: Kenti Robles plays for Atletico Madrid and Charlyn Corral plays for Levante UD Femenino. Some members of the women’s national team play for universities or professional clubs in the U.S., and others have gone all the way to Iceland and even Japan to play professionally.
It’s the same way elsewhere in Latin America, with the most common issue being the lack of investment in the sport. For example, the men’s teams in Argentina and Chile are ranked among the best in the world, but their women’s national teams aren’t even listed by FIFA as active squads.
“I used to play in the streets, but it was hard to find a league like this,” said Evelyn Barrera, a 25-year-old fan who attended the championship game on Saturday. “There was also the issue with my parents, who said that this was only for men and they questioned why I wanted to play soccer and not spend my time doing something else.”
“I was under the impression that we could all make it to the Mexican National Team, but there were very few opportunities,” said Lucelia Téllez, a 22-year-old who also went to the championship match. “Now, the doors are opening up and we can achieve more.”
Some Latin American soccer federations are starting to change the rules of the game. In addition to Mexico, Colombia also started its professional league this year. And Chile created its women’s league in 2008.
Saturday’s match filled the bleachers of the field at La Nuava Casa del Fútbol. But there’s still a long way to go before they can fill the larger stadiums where the men’s teams play and develop the same kind of fan base.
“The league is a first step,” Eva Espejo, the Pachuca head coach, told Fusion. “We still need continuity. We need them to believe in the project and to support us like they have supported all of the men.”
Mexican women don’t just want the right to play; they also want more equality on the pitch. The club players are asking to change some of the federation’s rules—for example, for the games to be 80 minutes instead of 70 (a standard soccer game lasts 90 minutes)—and that the games be televised.
Female athletes around the world typically earn far less than their male counterparts. According to The Orlando Sentinel, Marta Vieira, a Brazilian soccer player who was recently named the best female soccer player in the world, earns a maximum salary of $41,000 per year with her Orlando City Soccer Club. The pay gap is ridiculous when you compare them with men’s salaries. Cristiano Ronaldo, who just won the men’s best player award, raked in more than $50 million dollars in compensation in 2016.
“It’s been difficult because of the machismo,” said García, the Pachuca player. “But there is a future for gender equality and now is the time. We should enjoy it.”
This article was originally published on Fusion en español.