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Quito Cleats

 

 

One sunny day in Ecuador, a milking cow, an old man, and an eight-year-old-girl made the grueling trek across a muddy field. In an unlikely turn of events, I had become the center of what some might call a good start to a bad joke. And despite the notes of laughter dancing about the air, this was no joke. Something very serious was about to occur. Among women. In Ecuador.

 

Anyone who knows Ecuador (and who fancies bubble baths, has a penchant for gossip, and loves 
 no hates 
 no LOVES chocolate) has probably experienced the thick blue vein of machismo that courses through nearly all healthy Y-chromosome inhabitants of this Latino country. Besides bullfights and the ever-so-charming catcalls, there is no better way to assert one’s masculinity than by donning short shorts and running around shirtless with a bunch of other sweaty men.

 

When put this way, it is perhaps a bit strange that fĂștbol would be the national pastime of a country brimming with conservative Catholics and barrel-chested men with swaggers that would shame a Texan. Then again, if the bar-room brawls in England and roughed-up refs in Brazil are any indication, this no sport for someone light in their boots (or cleats). Given the importance of fĂștbol in a country ruled by machismo and mujeriegos, it is not surprising that soccer has yet to capture the interest of young Ecuadorian women.

 

But despite the whistles, sensual Latino serenades, and skin-tight tanks, a new species has come to inhabit Ecuador’s cultural landscape: the female fĂștbolista. Sporting the same apparel as her male counterpart (but the shirts stay on), this cleat-crazed beast is ripping up fields around Ecuador. Bravado with a feminine flair: this is the character of these all-women matches.

 

Having lived and breathed soccer since the age of seven, I was desperate to lace-up and hit the turf in Ecuador. Mention of this desire, however, was met with snickers, sneers, and sideway glances from both men and women. Clearly, I thought to myself, I had picked the wrong country to pursue this internationally recognized and revered sport. But Latin America has always had its renegades, and ladies lacing up on the fĂștbol fields outside of Quito are no exception.

 

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of a few fearless women (and a flurry of phone calls in broken Spanish) I found myself once again sporting cleats and panting my way up and down a fĂștbol field. I use the term “field” loosely to refer to a converted cow pasture with the makeshift metal goalposts awkwardly sticking up from either end.

 

Our weekly Sunday matches were brutal, elbows flying and tempers flaring. You might think this was a typical match between two competitive teams—except for the slightly-peeved heifer who refused to share her space and occasionally had to be beaten off the field of play by the old man wielding a large, rather painful looking stick. Maybe she, too, wanted to play. And unlike the matches back home, in these I was just as likely to receive a pass from a robust 45-year-old woman as I was her gangly-and-grinning eight-year-old daughter.

 

Struck dumb by the sight of my mud-encrusted clothes and socially mind-blowing new activity, my Ecua-brothers stammer out a few sentences in Spanish. “But are they any good?” one asks, incredulously. Who needs skills when you’re a Latina woman with an attitude. Let them be on the receiving end of one of those elbows, I think to myself. An image of a matador being gored by his bull flashes before me. All I have to do is show them the ball-shaped bruise on my leg, and they give a nod of approval. Of course, I conveniently failed to mention that after the game we gossiped our way back to one of the women’s houses for fresh squeezed pineapple juice and finger sandwiches.



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