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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – It’s impossible to deny: Brazil is the land of soccer – men’s soccer, that is.
On the women’s soccer field, the national women’s team still lags behind the enormously famous men’s team, as the young ladies are having a hard time attracting sponsors to fund their program.
And it has nothing to do with what the women have done on the field. Brazil has won the silver medal in each of the past two Olympics and is among the favorites to win gold in London in 2012. The team’s best player, Marta Vieira da Silva, has been chosen as FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year in each of the past four years.
“It’s a cultural fact that soccer is still perceived as a sport for men in Brazil”, says Kleiton Lima, coach of the Brazilian national women’s soccer team. “But our country is learning. A new generation is appearing and the [women’s] sport is [having] great results.”
Lima spent a year living in San Francisco in 1994 so he could incorporate what made the United States successful into the Brazilian program.
“The United States allows girls to compete in groups for under-15, under-17 and under-20,” he says. “When an American athlete gets into the professional team, she already is prepared. Here, the girl enters the professional team without that [benefit]. The initiation in Brazil is in the under-17 [group].”
Still, Lima and his team have a long way to go to get the same attention as the men’s team, which has won a record five World Cups and is the favorite to win a sixth in South Africa in July, says Rodrigo Paiva, spokesperson of the Brazilian confederation of soccer (CBF).
“Besides, women’s soccer is a recent phenomenon for Brazilians,” Paiva says.
But that’s not true.
The first documentation of a women’s soccer game was in 1921, but the game suffered a major blow when a 1941 law prohibited women from playing several male-dominated sports.
The reason? The law claimed some sports, such as soccer, could harm a woman’s fertility.
In 1964, when the military dictatorship took over the country, the national council of sports (CND) banned women’s soccer in Brazil. The decision was revoked in 1981.
In the 80s, the country started a national team, but its progress was hindered by a lack of infrastructure and low funding, which meant the women were paid very little – if at all.
Brazil, however, took a major step in 1996, when it qualified for the Olympics and played so well it finished in fourth place. The squad finished fourth again in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, before losing in the gold medal game in each of the past two Olympics. In 2007, Brazil defeated the United States en route to taking second at the World Cup.
“We’re placed third in FIFA’s ranking, just behind Germany and the United States,” Lima says. “The sport clubs and the sponsors should look at women’s soccer as a sport of high performance and should invest in it.”
Lima said for the team’s members to be able to make a living playing on the national team represents huge strides for a program that couldn’t pay – or paid very little – to the women who were silver medalists in 2004.
“There are at least four or five teams in the country that give good conditions and [the money] that allow the female soccer athletes to only play soccer for a living,” Lima says. “Unfortunately, most of the teams are still very amateurish and the girls have to play and to work part-time to survive.”
Paiva, however, guarantees the CBF will give both teams equal treatment, with the exception of salaries, as the men make much, much more than their female counterparts.
“CBF is giving great support,” Lima says, reiterating both teams will have numerous training areas. “There are now activities in the categories under-17 and under-20. For the last three years CBF is promoting the Brazilian Cup for women and making sure each state is represented by at least one team.”
Some teams, such as Santos, in the state of São Paulo, serve as role models. Santos announced on March 2 the renegotiation of its contract with gas company Copagaz to sponsor its women’s soccer team for the next nine months. Santos won’t reveal the terms of the deal, claiming only it is worth triple the previous one.
“New things are happening that we never imagined would be possible,” said Maurine Dorneles, a 24-year-old Santos player. “We had a lot of championships last year in which to participate. There are sport clubs creating new women’s soccer teams. It is a wonderful time.”