The reporter: Clara Rodríguez Merlo
Clara Rodríguez Merlo, 20, is a journalist, radio and TV presenter, and writer from Argentina. She covers women’s football for El Femenino Radio on Radio La Red and El Femenino for Crónica TV. Clara covered the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup as a Young Reporter for the AIPS program, bringing together 16 talented young reporters from around the world to cover the tournament.
Where were the photos taken?
All of the pictures were taken in different parts of the Charrúa Stadium in Montevideo, Uruguay. In the media zone, from the stands, in the press conference room, and on the media stands. There are different types of people in my pictures, but they all relate to the same thing. Football wouldn’t be the same if any of them were missing. I took photos of players, coaches, fans and journalists.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos? Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?
I tried to capture the tournament from my point of view as a journalist. They express what football means to fans, coaches, players and journalists from all around the world: passion, hard work and fair play.
Meet Antonia Carreto, 72, grandma of the Mexican defender Tanna Carreto. She and the other Mexican fans were pretty loud and always wore different wigs with Mexican flag colours. She travelled all the way from Mexico to support her granddaughter and her country.
Of the 16 teams in the tournament, only five coaches were women. Two of those five women took their teams to the World Cup Final. María Antonia Is from Spain and Mónica Vergara from Mexico congratulated each other for reaching the final. By leaving the trophy and what it represents aside, they hugged and wished luck for both teams for the last and most important World Cup match. Women’s football is growing on the pitch and on the benches.
Both of them were part of the FIFA Coach Mentorship programme, which was created to support female coaches by teaching them skills and new knowledge to acquire experience that can be useful in their careers. Monica Vergara was part of Leo Cuellar’s (former coach of U17 Mexican Women’s team) coaching team. “Toña” Is was a former player for the Spanish National Team, and became the European Champion with the U17 Spanish Women’s National Team in May 2018.
In the press conference before the final, they both expressed their happiness not only for reaching that stage but also because the two who were achieving this accomplishment were women. A few days after defeating South Korea 4-0 in the first match of the U17 WWC, Antonia Is said: “Little by little, women are creating a space for themselves in the world of football as players and coaches. To any woman who wants to be part of this, I tell them to keep calm and do what you love. If they want to be players or coaches, do it. At the end, you will get a reward.” She certainly did, because two weeks later, she became a World Champion, giving her country their second FIFA World Cup.
This picture represents Uruguayans’ passion for football and their country. This woman painted Uruguay’s flag on her face for the Final, even though Uruguay’s National Team were out of the tournament in the group phase. Despite that, she didn’t want to miss the chance of watching a World Cup Final, and why not express her love for her country despite the defeats?
Mbalenhle is from South Africa, and she was very excited to work on her first Women’s World Cup. In this picture she is attending the third place match between Canada and New Zealand. At the same time she was writing a story about Colonia, Uruguay, one of the spots where the World Cup took place. Fun fact: She was getting married the next week.
These are young reporters from all over the world and our mentor from Argentina, Martin Mazur, working in the Media Zone of Charrúa Stadium before the U17 Women’s World Cup semi-finals. Everybody was researching interesting stories to tell about the tournament, the players, coaches, and their families. This photo shows (from the left) Erin Fish (USA), Anne Armbrecht (Germany), Mbalenhle (South Africa) and Martín Mazur (mentor from Argentina). They were all from different parts around the world and they had been also living together for three weeks. They all met there in Uruguay for the AIPS program, bringing together 16 talented young reporters from around the planet and providing them everything to cover a sports event, in this case one of the biggest ones: a FIFA World Cup. They all agreed this was one of the greatest experiences of their lives.
Spain and New Zealand were fighting for a place in the World Cup Final. It was not an easy match. New Zealand was, without doubt, the great surprise of this World Cup. Spain was the favourite to win the tournament, but The Kiwis made it hard. The first goal came in the 39thminute from the feet of Spain’s captain Claudia Pina, Those Spanish fans that travelled 9709 km to support their team hugged with joy, ending the suffering and uncertainty. Spain defeated New Zealand 2-0 and qualified to the World Cup Final.
What is your favourite photo?
The two Spanish fansbecause it was a moment. Taking the picture with a phone or a professional camera would had been so much easier, It wouldn’t be that valuable. For me it shows a celebration that expresses the invisible connection football creates between people. It wasn’t forced. How amazing is it that football creates so much joy that people are not able to contain it inside and have to express it physically? Football is passion; football is another way to connect with others.
What is your football story?
I have loved football since I had the use of my mind. When I was born my father had already bought me a shirt of our favourite football club. While I was growing up, he sat me next to him every weekend to watch different games of Argentina’s league, especially Boca Juniors. I loved it. 10 years before that, it was not common to see girls playing football in Argentina, so when I was in primary school girls had to play field hockey. However, my teachers knew that I loved playing it so much they let me practice with the boys.
As a teenager I began expanding my horizons, and started watching different leagues and divisions. When I left school at age 18, my desire was to study sports journalism, but I was afraid that it was going to be difficult to find a job that gave me the possibility to live from it, so I decided to study psychology.
But I wasn’t happy, I was lost, and I didn’t know what to do. At the same time I knew a woman who had a radio show about sports. She and another guy had started a show specialising in women’s football, they needed writers for the website, and they needed someone to cover River Plate’s matches. I went to the radio show and I was fascinated, I had never been in a radio studio before, and having a whole hour to talk about the discipline blew my mind. A month later I quit psychology and began studying journalism. I started working on the radio and followed River Plate everywhere they played.
At the end of 2017 I hosted the program alone for the first time and am also now a producer. I learnt a lot about women’s football, the environment and the different obstacles for the players to get some recognition, especially in a country where the game is amateur. My job here is to give them the visibility they deserve; awareness is one of the most important factors to help women’s football grow, so my job is a real commitment.
In May 2018, we were not only on radio, but also on TV. We became the first TV show about women’s football in Argentina and in Latin America, where we show all the goals and plays of the Argentinian league, National team news and interviews with the players. I do everything to make the “product” work to give the footballers and the fans the coverage they deserve. Writing articles, filming the games, arranging the interviews, everything that can make the sport grow. Of course, I have a great team that works for the same objective: the growth and development of women’s football.
What does football mean to you?
Football is not only a sport for me; it is a great part of the relationship with my father and the values and lessons he gave me through it.Football is my country, Argentina. Everywhere you go, there is somebody playing it, somebody wearing a football shirt, somebody watching it, somebody discussing Messi and Maradona. We breathe football. Argentina matches, “Superclasicos” (Boca Juniors vs. River Plate), Copa Libertadores Finals. Champions League legs are watched by millions all around the country as if it was a ritual. This sport wasn’t invented here but it is a national emblem.
Football also has a social function in a country full of deficits in almost every aspect, such as economic and educational ones. Playing football in any club is giving boys and girls the opportunity of developing a healthy childhood, away from all problems they have to struggle with at home. Football is a part of every aspect of my life - my childhood, my adolescence and now at work in my adult life. Football is part of who I am today and who I want to be tomorrow.
What does the future look like for women’s football?
The growth and development of women’s football is a symptom of the time. Women around the world have started to make themselves heard and are beginning to gain the place they deserve and football is not the exception. The future of women's football will improve as FIFA, the different federations, and clubs work as they should.
It is important to create regulations and make sure the federations follow the rules. For example, CONMEBOL dictated a law that said that every club in South America has to have a women’s team, because if they do not, the men’s team will not be able to participate in international tournaments such as La Copa Libertadores or La Copa Sudamericana. That is a great start but is important that the federation makes sure the clubs are not just having a women’s team, but that they have women’s teams in the proper conditions. It is necessary to invest in the game to develop structures so the players can train properly, to support them economically so they don’t have to work extra hours, provide them medical support so they don’t have to pay for injuries suffered in the matches, and so they don´t have to pay for the ambulance that has to attend to the matches! I know it sounds crazy, but in Argentina and in different parts of South America the conditions provided to the “professional” football players is a disaster. I write “professionals” because clubs make women train and behave as professionals while they are playing in amateur leagues.
Women’s football does not only need economical support, but also serious and systematic distribution and visibility, not only about the beautiful parts of the game, but also the flaws, to open a space to discuss and debate how to improve. There is great potential in women’s football, if we (as journalists and people with access to media) and leaders of the football federations work to provide the conditions needed for players of today. I have no doubt women’s football will be a success, not only in the “first world” but in every country of the world.