Women’s football still struggles for recognition in Brazil

. Jun 10, 2019
Women's football brazil jamaica world cup 2019 france Photo: CBF/A2M

On Sunday morning, Brazil’s women’s team took the field for its World Cup opener against Jamaica. Broadcast on three stations, including two nationwide terrestrial channels, the country cheered the team on to a 3-0 victory, with a hat-trick from Cristiane. Just 40 years ago, however, women’s football was illegal in Brazil, and had been since 1941.

Seen as “not suited to the female body” and overly violent, the sport was prohibited for Brazilian women, while the men’s team took the globe by storm with World Cup wins in 1958, 1962, and 1970.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, even after the sport was properly regulated in the mid 1980s, the view of women&#8217;s football as being &#8220;not ladylike&#8221; persisted. Among members of the current Brazil squad, there are still several players who suffered constant prejudice to get where they are today.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Central midfielder Formiga, currently playing in her <em>seventh</em> <a href="">World Cup</a>, tells of how her brothers used to beat her up every day because she played football. Marta, six-time World Player of the Year and with more goals for Brazil than Pelé, suffered similar torments, with her brothers locking her in her bedroom and forcing her to miss training sessions.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The prejudice didn&#8217;t just come at home, however. Sissi, Brazil&#8217;s star forward in the 1990s—who, as a child, used to rip the heads off the dolls she was given as presents and play football with them—was ostracised from the national team in the 2000s not because of the way she played, but because of the way she looked.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After Brazil&#8217;s historic third-place finish at the 1999 World Cup, Sissi decided to shave her head, a bet which she had made among her team-mates during the tournament. With her buzzcut hair, Sissi couldn&#8217;t get back into the national team, despite being the country&#8217;s best center-forward.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Even her club football suffered, thanks to the astonishingly sexist rules of the 2001 São Paulo state championship, which stated that &#8220;the beauty and sensuality of the players should be highlighted in order to attract a masculine audience.&#8221; At the time, a high-ranking official of the Brazilian football confederation defended these rules to the media, stating that women &#8220;[couldn&#8217;t] play with shaved heads.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Women&#8217;s football an afterthought in Brazil</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While matters of institutional sexism have improved in women&#8217;s football, the inequality between the men&#8217;s and women&#8217;s game is shockingly large, even more striking than in the rest of the world. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil&#8217;s best players play abroad, in Europe or the United States, as domestic clubs do not pay their female players a living wage. Many of Brazil&#8217;s biggest sides do not even have women&#8217;s teams, with national champions Palmeiras only inaugurating their women&#8217;s team in February of this year.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The women&#8217;s game is so far down the list of priorities that in 2012, Brazilian club Santos scrapped its women&#8217;s football team entirely in order to pay for an exorbitant one-year contract for men&#8217;s football star Neymar. The team was only reinstated three years later.</span></p> <h2>The vicious cycle</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil&#8217;s national women&#8217;s team <a href="">struggles for recognition</a> in the country. While there are many factors at play, one is the fact that the team has yet to win a major trophy. In seven editions of the World Cup, Brazil&#8217;s best result was reaching the final in 2007, when the team lost out 2-0 to Germany.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian football fans are extremely club-oriented, with the national team consistently struggling for popularity. If the men&#8217;s side, with five World Cups in its trophy cabinet, often comes in for criticism from Brazilian fans, what chance do the women have, in such a marginalized sport?</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Clearly, this is a vicious cycle. The team is not given the proper support, encouragement, and funding, because it hasn&#8217;t been successful. And it hasn&#8217;t been successful because it hasn&#8217;t had the proper support, encouragement, and funding. Breaking this chain would require either a miracle on the pitch, or a concerted effort from the heads of Brazilian football to give the sport the backing and support it deserves.</span></p> <h2>Two steps forward, one step back</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That said, the coverage of this year&#8217;s World Cup is the biggest it has ever been in Brazil. In the last edition of the tournament, Brazil&#8217;s women&#8217;s team arrived in the host country five days before their first match, and the media coverage was close to nil. This time around, however, the squad were sent on a two-week training camp in Portugal, accompanied by swathes of journalists, with daily updates on Brazil&#8217;s football discussion shows.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The competition is being broadcast on major networks in the country, with cable TV station SporTV having pledged to show all World Cup matches across its three channels. However, on the second day of the tournament, the station did not show live broadcasts of either Spain v. South Africa, or Norway v. Nigeria.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Furthermore, with the men&#8217;s Copa America tournament kicking off in Brazil next week, there is every chance that the women&#8217;s competition will once again play second fiddle.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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