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Here are the female fans

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Revista Túnel, August 2022

The story may sound more or less familiar. A group of women fans of the Academia felt the need to open up new spaces, on the one hand to organise themselves, on the other hand to create new bonds of action in the club of their loves. All fans, all members, all together: Rossana Echeverry, Valentina Varela, Daniela Centena, Camila Testón and Mariana Voetter.

They gather in the evening, in the darkened headquarters of the Racing Club de Montevideo, on Calle Millán, in the area that extends to the side of the Estadio Parque Osvaldo Roberto. They insist, they knock on doors, they organise events, even when participation or membership is questioned. They are the two sides of the same coin of Racing: the neighbourhood club, the one that has always been a ‘sociedad anónima’ (SAD) since 2021, which separates this tangible world, linked to the territory, of history, neighbourhood and grass with a sports business that seeks profit and professionals, as synonymous with investment. At the crossroads of these roads, the Comisión de Género y Diversidades de Racing was born.

The Calle Millán headquarters is in semi-darkness. One can see work in the area where Parque Roberto and the Racing headquarters coexist, whose white-painted façade can barely be glimpsed from the yellow light of the avenue. Perhaps one of the particularities that stands out about this commission is that it was born in a club with a divided heritage. The current president is Washington Lizandro and SAD is headed by Fernando Cavenaghi, a former River Plate striker. The team’s assembly, which took place in February 2021 at the Centenario Stadium, approved with 84 yes and 79 no votes the transformation of the ‘old’ Racing into a SAD. Although this form of management and even political organisation of the club is not new in the world, starting in 1990 in Europe and Spain, in Uruguay it landed in 2009, as happens with some ideas imported from the north. The first club to be established as SAD was Deportivo Maldonado in 2009.

Under this system, an entity is created under civil law that transfers ‘sporting assets’ to the SAD, which include affiliation rights on players and players, television and economic rights on transfers, but not assets such as the clubhouse and stadium. According to Cavenaghi and various Uruguayan media, SAD’s contract is for 45 years, renewable every ten years.

Racing, which celebrated its 103rd birthday on 6 April 2022, arrived at the top of the second division table with a clear objective: to be promoted.

Although the committee was officially formed in May, it has been working since 2020. The last members joined in 2022, and according to their own words, it is always open to continue welcoming people who want to contribute.

“I’ve always been involved in the social part, in the events,” says Rossana Echeverry, who is on her third attempt to create the committee within the club, “It’s been working for a long time. I have been a fan for many years, since I was fifteen and now I am close to fifty’.

Valentina Varela, 17, is the youngest member. She came to the committee because her mother Daniela, who is also a member, told her: ‘It captured me. I like the idea that we fans who have off-field experiences can participate and help women’s football in particular”.

Daniela Centena, 45, has been a Racing fan for as long as she can remember. “My parents were fans and I inherited this passion. In the beginning we were all members, we got angry with the management when the team was relegated and we disagreed in general with the sporting idea. We did not renew our membership card, but we did not stop going to games. We had never been involved in the social part and upon discovering this committee we were interested in the type and type of work. We contacted Cami and joined for the Dia de la Madre celebrations. We became partners again (laughs). I am happy to share this with Valentina, because we share a passion’.

Camila Testón is 23 years old and the ‘oldest’ member. ‘Why am I a fan? It’s a long story,’ she says. ‘My parents had separated and my mother came to Sayago, because she worked for the Moro family. At that time, Enrique Moro was the president of Club Sayago. Everyone in that house was sick with Racing and all the time we were talking about that. One day I was walking with my dad in Millán and I asked him why there were so many people dressed in green and white and he told me it was because they were coming to see the neighbourhood club. I was so curious that one day I went to a Sayago game and then to see Racing.

Later there was the murga (a Spanish-derived dance and theatre form) group Contrafarsa and we like Carnival and it remained as something connected: Racing, Sayago and Contrafarsa. In 2016 I became part of the student movement at Liceo 26 and I met a classmate who used to wear a Racing T-shirt all the time. We started going to camp together and to this day “Racing, Racing, Racing”. There’s something that can’t be explained. My mother would say. “You must have been a Racing fan in another life”, because Racing is part of my everyday life”.

To try to explain what this repetition of the club’s name means in her life Camila comments ‘I get up and it’s Racing. I need to know when the next game is and to get the ticket. The same happens with the club’s activities. The day Racing relegated, I was hospitalised for fifteen days because my heart rate had dropped, being on the pitch. It’s also my salvation. I spent a long time in hospital and knowing that I would see Racing was good for me’.

Maria Voetter, 34, presents herself as the shyest member. When she takes the floor she says. “I have been on the committee since 2020, after the elections. First in the Comisión Social and later in the Comisión de Género. I am from Pando. My father and grandfather were born in Sayago. My father became a fan and I started going to the stadium with him in 2008. It started as a habit and now everything is Racing. Where I see green and white, it’s Racing.

The beginnings

To find out how the committee was formed, everyone asks Camila. She takes the time to explain the process. “In 2018, in the previous leadership chaired by Nicolás Núñez, the idea of the creation of the Gender Commission was presented. Christian Marino who had always managed the Racing networks and was always criticised, because the March for Diversity or 20 May posts were made, was constantly attacked. As time went by it became more frequent and we got used to the idea that Racing would publish something on those days. Christian proposed the creation of a commission to a group of fans who replied that when it was created it should be formed by the women of the management, who knew very little. At the end of this management mandate, the club was seen at SAD and we started to prepare the next elections.

A group called Williams Lucas [List 11] was born, after a former president of Racing. A project was presented, written by me, to create the Comisión de Género. They told us yes. In all clubs committees are something apart and there is not always room. So I kept cheering until there was a so-called ‘formal call’ to be part of the committee. Before that there were isolated groups, we did workshops and had some concerns. We ended up being more members and started with activities. At this moment they saw that we were willing to work. It is a permanent insistence”.

The members of the commission realise this attitude of constant insistence in its proposals. They recognise that, in addition to the concrete work in carrying out a project, there was a political action that involves talking, explaining, sharing with others and other people. Many times they find themselves with similar people and many others experience unpleasant situations of rejection.

“When the club’s birthday was in April, after the committee made it official, we announced that we would create a ‘purple dot’ as a space to raise awareness about gender violence and people started to contribute. We had three timely meetings with people who claimed to be victims and we referred them to the Comuna Mujer de la Intendencia de Montevideo for assistance. Last year we had organised a workshop on virility with the first team squad and an activity called Llamale H [International Film Festival on Sexual and Gender Diversity in Uruguay] with the boys and girls of the youth teams. We always had a lot of procrastination. We asked the Directive Commission that the creation of the commission be made official in the acts, this year, just now, it was formally constituted. After a year and a half of insistence and work,” says Camila.

Occupy the necessary space and more

The core text of the Commission on Gender and Diversity of Racing says many things. Among them it makes it clear that needs exist and must be met to walk in the direction of a more egalitarian, healthy, just and violence-free sport. “To build a sense of sport that allows us to think of a fairer, healthier, more egalitarian sport, free from violence, free from gender-based violence, to work between all structures by all actors, to be able to achieve egalitarian access to sport. We need to break down among all and sundry the barriers that still prevent many people, mainly women, from continuing to practise sport. We need to make the maximum effort, together, to obtain the participation of women in the management commissions of our clubs, federations, etc. […] For this we need the commitment of the whole community, of all those who are part of the institutions and, why not, of the sporting sphere. […] We need more sportsmen and sportswomen to commit to gender equality, not just through the game, we think in a Racing Club that goes further. For that we need everyone and everyone, because it is a wonderful mechanism to transform lives and if we can get a glimpse from this place, surely we can build a lot’.