Goalkeeping Prodigy Vanessa Cordoba Talks Gender Inequality in Soccer


Is it a man's world? So it would seem, as male-dominated sports generate billions each year.

The disparities between male and female soccer are endless - speed, agility ,play rates, game attendance are but a few of the defining factors that determines the women's game inferior to that of the men's.

We've spoken to Colombia's Vanessa Cordoba about what makes the game so intrinsically different and just why are women so far behind in terms of career longevity and pay. Having grown up the daughter of an esteemed Colombian goalkeeper - the boundless passion that defines the sport encompassed her life from the very beginning.

From an early age, the daughter of Colombian soccer star, Oscar Cordoba, was involved in a multitude of sports - but it wasn't until she was injured playing beach volleyball that the prospect of soccer lingered in the horizon - suggested of course, by her dad. A familiar face on the Colombian goalkeeping scene, he naturally suggested place between the posts for his daughter.

"I wasn't a very girly girl - I think my dad always wanted to have a boy and then he got two girls (and had to wait 15 more years for a boy) so we always had soccer balls around, and I always went to watch him train."

It hasn't been an easy journey - between difficult collegiate transitions in the U.S and injury ridden seasons, hers is a tale many have heard before - but mostly from a male perspective. Coverage of women's soccer - whether it's European, American or national is close to non-existent. Vanessa attributes this to lack of funding and lack of interest from wealthy sponsors that create hype around the sport through adverts and spreads in magazines, photo shoots etc. Adidas, who she's reluctant to talk poorly of because of their great relationship with her father, has on numerous occasions embarrassed not only themselves, but the women they sponsor by not treating them as they would their male counterparts.

"If we don't get exposure - they (the people) won't know us."

Courtesy of PanamericanWorld

She recalls a match for which the girls were presented menswear to dress in - men's spandex, ill fitting in areas known to all of us and ridiculous looking on a woman's physique. The optics don't help them either consequently, because everything looks so big, and they aren't easily marketable if their gear doesn't look good. It's a revolving, repetitive problem whereby the care isn't given to the sport and so a business cannot be cultivated - money cannot be made.

Women are left consistently in the shade of their male superstar equivalents. To make it in women's soccer, to command the respect the guys receive from sponsors, donors, management, a lot of the time it's based on how many shirts you sell, and not your talent - a complete reversal of the situation in the men's game.

"While there's more competition for men - there's also more teams, more sponsorship."

The sport is suffering in Colombia because of this degradation - Vanessa gets more money playing college soccer in the U.S than she would for the national team at home. There are no incentives to play in Colombia - many of Vanessa's comrades indeed have second jobs to accommodate the fact that pay is also non-existent for female soccer players in the country. So why do it? Why continue to pursue a career that rewards not your talent, your ability nor your hard work?

Sheer, unadulterated passion.

That's what drives these women above all. They enter the sport knowing they will not reap the rewards of the highest paid most respected male footballers - they won't attract the crowds or recognition the men in their very same field do. They are destined to pale in comparison to Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and every other boy wonder that is put on a rotating pedestal every season, every tournament, every game - idolized by the masses, celebrated in the annals of the game.

At the women's Champions League final - a riveting match, tied in the final minutes; a game that would have left any crowd breathless was broadcasted on very few stations, and received a minuscule amount of attention from the global media. What's more - is the infamous Champions League anthem, a mainstay of the competition and a symbol of the very sport itself, was not played at the women's final.

Were they not worthy of the honor? Did they not make the cut, or was it simply — like the embarrassing Adidas fiasco Vanessa has recalled — an oversight? Are those that deal with the female side of this sport just lacking in both attention and motivation to improve the sport, or is it just a serious case of sexism? Vanessa cites a quote from the vice-president of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Seyi Akinwunmi, whereby he said that it was 'lesbianism' that was killing women's football. The translation of which, one can only assume, is that if women do not become sex symbols within this sport, the sport will not thrive.

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Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.

When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.