BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Dozens of trophies, balls and cups sit on two worn, wooden shelves in the small home in a Buenos Aires suburb of Mara Gómez, who is poised to become the first transgender woman to play professional soccer in Argentina.
Tall and athletic, Gómez looks at the mementos from her arduous journey in soccer and life, and smiles. “When I started I was so bad. I’d kick the ball at the goal and it would go anywhere.”
Gómez spent years playing in local women’s leagues in Buenos Aires province before being signed recently by Villa San Carlos in the first division. Now the 22-year-old forward is awaiting the Argentine Soccer Federation’s decision whether to authorize the signing in a soccer-mad country that has produced some of the world’s greatest stars, from Lionel Messi to Maradona.
The federation’s decision on Gómez could come in days, and in the run-up her cellphone pings constantly with messages from people reaching out to her. While many support her bid to play professional soccer, others contend it is unfair to the non-transgender women in the league.
“The rights of transgender athletes and the social demands to integrate them into competitions challenge and seriously threaten the rights of women in sports,” said Juan Manuel Herbella, a former soccer player who is a sports doctor. “Athletes who were born men, if they maintain their base conditions, start with an enormous advantage.”
Juan Cruz Vitale, the Villa San Carlos coach, rejects the idea that Gómez would have an unfair advantage.
The coach said she caught his eye with her speed and her scoring in two straight tournaments. But, he said, “If we talk of strength, I have at least five or six girls who are stronger than her. On that side I don’t see that there is an advantage.”