When Brazil is just a brand
Winning the Gold medal in Women’s football at the Panamerican Games in July only hides a shameful truth.
Women footballers. A term that doesn’t go well in Brazil. Despite being among the top teams in international competitions, the truth is that the sport is bleeding, and it has been bleeding in the country for quite a while.
Marta’s team, how the Women’s national team is called most of the times, is a painted and renovated façade of a building that is in ruins. Today it is estimated that only about 500,000 women play football in Brazil. But if the figure is correct, it represents even less than one percent of the female population. There’s very little official information on women footballers around the country, and that could represent the lack of teams in Brazil or simply the lack of interest on the matter. I would risk the latter.
This is not news. The history of prejudice and prohibition is long. The arrival of football in Brazil happened around the beginning of the 20th century, and there are accounts of the women giving a try to the sport for a few years. But then, women players were forbidden to take part in the sport due to ‘medical concerns’ and the promotion of sports that would emphasize beauty and femininity. The year was 1941. Some rogue teams still existed, and in the 1950s there are accounts of female teams travelling in the state of Minas Gerais and being welcomed by men while kicking a ball around the pitch.
However, much of that changed in the course of the years. It was only in 1979 that the Ministry for Sports reinstated football as a sport allowed to women. But the acceptance has been taking years to recover. During the time of absence, Football became extremely successful on the feet of the likes of Garrincha, Pelé, Tostão, Zico and many others. It became a typically male sport, and a struggle for women.
The restart of football for female players hasn’t, since then, been an easy task. Instead, it resembles more like a challenge, a fight of determination against lack of funding, prejudice and stereotype. Very few clubs attempted to develop a women’s division, while others created women’s football as a form of entertainment. One and the most bizarre of them was a team named the Globettes, made of models with few football skills, but intended to capture the male attention.
Still today, in the Brazilian sports shows, commentators are male with very few presenters and reporters who are women, and able to have an opinion on the matter or a more relevant role in a male dominated world.
Despite all the obstacles, one cannot deny that Brazilian women have left their footprints in history. Marta Vieira is one of them, but like many others, she had to leave Brazil to gain recognition, and in her childhood, was constantly forbidden to play the sport. Another name less famous is the one of Lea Campos. Destined to change the role models in Football, Campos was the first female referee for FIFA in the 1970s. Her story has just recently emerged, and it still remain shy of its triumph.
For the upcoming years of women’s football in Brazil, the future is obscure and uncertain. While the Brazilian National Federation (CBF) has been able to cover any traces of failure overseas, within the country the ruining walls are starting to crack. The recently appointed coach to the women’s national team Oswaldo ‘Vadão’ Alvarez has been discovering in the past six months that the division has many more problems that he could have ever imagined. And makes a serious alert to the clubs and CBF: “within five years, the national team will not have enough players to replace the current squad”.
The temporary solution that has been in place to present a national squad in competitions like the World Cup, the upcoming Pan-American Games and Rio 2016 was to create a “permanent” team until next year’s Olympics, as many of them don’t have a permanent club. This was the team that won the Panamerican Games in Canada.
The measure also hurt one of the few prestigious female teams: São José, winner of the South American Cup in 2014 lost eight of its players – for obvious reasons – to the permanent squad. And even some of the chosen permanent players, like Formiga, are questioning the new solution, especially in regards to their future beyond 2016.
The problem is not only organization, but it is embedded in the media, also affecting sponsorship possibilities. While monitoring four of the main national newspapers, many of them barely mentioned the existence of a women’s world cup happening in Canada last June, but were all quick in portraying the failure of the Brazilian team in the knock-out stage against Australia.
Unfortunately, Brazil remains still quite conservative in some aspects of life in the 21st century. And when the head of women’s football for the National Federation declares to international media that the sport is progressing due to the increased femininity of the players, one knows that there is something really wrong there.
Luciane Lauffer is a Journalist, and currently is taking a Masters by Research (Media) at Macquarie University, Australia, focusing on the Media Representation of Women Footballers in Brazil. Born and raised in Brazil, it was since she moved to Australia that Football (Soccer) got a different dimension for her. Missing the madness of the sport in her home country, she became directly involved on the pitches as a Referee. Luciane now holds a Level 3 accreditation (working towards L2), as well as Grassroots Coach Certificate, and is occasionally wearing the gloves for her local women’s team