Brazilian women fight prejudice through soccer

Brazil’s march to the final of the Women’s Soccer World Cup final in China is doing far more than just helping the growth of the sport in the South American country where it was once banned by law.

A stellar performance by Marta saw Brazil demolish tournament favourites the United States 4-0 in the semifinal on Thursday, setting up a debut final appearance on Sunday against Germany, who qualified for their second successive final thanks to a 3-0 defeat of Norway.

“Their success has finally exploded the prejudices that exist in our country,” said Alexandre, a women’s football coach in Rio. “Parents who until recently wouldn’t allow their daughters to play football, are now bringing them personally to training.”

Women’s football in Brazil achieved an important milestone in July with the triumph at the Pan American Games, while the team have now received even greater exposure thanks to their exploits in China.

While men’s football is followed with almost religious fervour in Brazil, the women’s game was actually banned between 1965 and 1982 by the ruling military dictatorship.

But even with the advent of democracy, women’s football was still frowned upon with players often derided as “lesbians” and “ugly hags” by members of the public.

“Even today, there are still many prejudices because many see football as being an exclusively male sport,” said Harvard anthropologist Catlin Fischer, who has received an $80 000 research grant to investigate why women’s football is so frowned upon in Brazil.

However, slowly but surely the sport is gaining a foothold in Brazil and attitudes are changing.

“When I began playing football at the age of 15, you couldn’t watch women’s football on television. Our sport didn’t exist,” said Brazil’s World Cup captain Aline.

But, according to Aline, the Pan American Games changed everything with fans going to matches “without caring if the players on the pitch were more or less attractive or if they were black or white”.

This is a far cry from even a few years ago when, for example, the São Paulo region tried to organise a tournament involving only “attractive” women to show that “real women” also play football.

While men’s football attracts talent from all social strata in Brazil, the women’s game, for the most part, is made up of players from the country’s slums.

Spurred on by the success of players like Marta, who reportedly earns $45 000 a month in Sweden, many women now see football as one-way ticket out of grinding poverty.

Ronaldinha, a 13-year-old member of Alexandre’s team in Rio, is a perfect example.

“I bring my mum with me as she is unemployed.
I want to play football and go to school,” she says. “There are foreign clubs who are interested in five or six girls here, even though the little ones have never played for a club.”

Brazil’s success in reaching the women’s World Cup final has also had more immediate results with the football federation CBF announcing shortly after the victory over the US that it intends setting up a women’s national league.

“I hope that our successes will change everything,” said the 21-year-old Marta after the Pan American success in July. “I’ve gone through hell myself.”—Sapa-dpa

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