Dominican Republic international volleyball player Winifer Fernandez was a star name among the plethora of top players at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League, but as this year’s edition approaches she is notable by her absence from her country’s roster.
The 24-year-old libero is one of the most searched for players on the internet, she has a huge Instagram & SnapChat following and there are seemingly endless videos and galleries dedicated to her – many focussing more on her looks than her playing abilities.
Given her fame, you could be forgiven for thinking her career is going from strength to strength, but a closer look suggests that one of volleyball’s recent success stories may have gone awry.
A burgeoning volleyball talent
Born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Fernandez emerged as an outstanding young player when she won the Best Digger, Best Receiver and Best Libero awards at the 2010 NORCECA Youth Championship, helping the Dominican Republic to achieve a fourth-placed finish.
More awards individual honours followed at club level as she built her reputation with Cienfuegos in her home country and, after impressing at the FIVB Under-20 World Championship in June 2013, she was called up to represent the Dominican Republic national team at the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.
The Dominican team came 10th and Fernandez’s star continued to rise as she impressed while playing in the League of Azerbaijan for Telekom Baku and Rabita Baku.
She was named Volleyball Player of the Year 2014 by the Santiago Province Guild of Sports Writers, helping her earn a transfer back home to Mirador in the Distrito Nacional Superior league.
Fake Instagram accounts & nude photo scandal
In July 2016, a video of Fernandez playing for her country went viral after being posted on YouTube, prompting social media accounts sharing images and clips of her to spread like wildfire.
Despite the fact that she was on top of her game, having been part of the Dominican Republic side that topped Group 2 at the World Grand Prix and clinched gold at the Pan-American Cup, the viral video and subsequent fan accounts obsessed over her beauty rather than her prowess as one world volleyball’s most talented liberos.
Among the flood of multimedia were fake Winifer Fernandez nude & naked images proliferated by multiple fake Winifer Fernandez Instagram accounts. The images were of such a scandalous nature that the Dominican team released a statement condemning them and urging people to work towards the removal of false accounts set up in her name.
“We want to denounce this false account on Instagram of our player, Winifer Fernandez,” the statement said. “Please help us to report it. Winifer does not use social networks.”
The following year, newspaper El Mundo included Fernandez in its list of the world’s most beautiful athletes, after which she gave an interview shedding light on the effect that global attention – some of it unwanted – had upon her.
“For me it is an honour to be within that group of athletes who, mainly, work every day to achieve their professional goals,” Fernandez told Italian newspaper Listin Diario.
“Fame is more difficult to handle, especially when it comes surprisingly with a malicious video.
“Now is the time to handle the situation with the wind in my favour and I will continue to enjoy it through my sporting performance.”
After a title-winning season at Caribenas New Horizons, Fernandez was named in Marcos Kwiek’s squad for the 2018 VNL, with the coach putting young players to the fore in the absence of more experienced campaigners like Brenda Castillo and Priscilla Rivera.
Alongside Natalia Martinez, Gaila Gonzalez and Vielka Peralta, Fernandez played well and, although Dominican Republic were 14th in the final standings, her performances showed she could cope with the demands of facing the world’s best sides.
But later in the year, Fernandez opted to leave the national team “without explanation”, according to the Dominican Volleyball Federation.
She returned to the headlines in January when Guerreras swooped to sign both her and Rivera, bringing together two of the country’s big name players in the same side, but club president Rafael Cordero Hache said he was unable to give any guarantees over whether or not she would play for the club.
An unfinished story
Guerreras endured a torrid season in the Superior Volleyball League and, while Rivera remains on the club’s roster and will captain the Dominican team at this year’s VNL, Fernandez is no longer listed as a Guerreras player and has not made Kwiek’s squad.
With no official presence on social media, no club laying claim to her and the Dominican Republic pressing ahead without her, the story of Winifer Fernandez’s ascent to the top of world volleyball has gone mysteriously quiet.