Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a brief story on why girls in Orlando were so lucky to be watching and listening to the players from the Orlando Pride. How fortunate these girls are to have giant role models in their backyards. During their run in the World Cup, our Pride players are doing nothing if not making headlines as they come out in support of Megan Rapinoe, but Marta is making headlines for different reasons.
Orlando Pride’s Marta is already a sensation in her country, but she used her stage to call for more. The Brazilian has been named FIFA’s World Player of the Year six times, she is the first man or woman to score in five different World Cups, and currently holds the record for most goals scored across FIFA World Cup tournaments, with 17.
Following Brazil’s knockout match last Sunday, Marta sent out an impassioned plea, a rallying cry to young Brazilian girls all over to keep their sport alive. She looked point-blank at the camera and addressed the girls of her nation pleading,
“It’s wanting more. It’s training more. It’s taking care of yourself. It’s being able to play 90 plus 30 minutes. This is what I ask of the girls. There’s not going to be a Formiga forever. There’s not going to be a Marta forever. There’s not going to be a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive. So, think about that. Value it more. Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.”
There she was, on an international stage, begging for the girls of her country to continue the fight for equality, to continue the fight to be recognized, and to continue to fight for greatness. It’s all too easy in Brazil to walk away from the sport when you can’t afford to play, because of how differently the men and women’s teams are viewed.
In 2010, Brazilians shattered expectations by electing their first female president, but when it comes to soccer, the women have often been left behind. The sport made its way to Brazil in 19th century, seeing teams pop up all over the country. In 1941, the minister of education and health passed a law stating it was illegal for women to play sports that were against their nature. The law remained in effect until it was finally lifted in 1979, but continues to plague the country.
Caitlin Fisher recalls a time when she left America to play for a club in Brazil, only to train for several hours a day and sometimes have enough money only to pay for bread and butter. She recalls not even being allowed to eat in the cafeteria, use the laundry rooms, or play on the fields. Some players report being paid only four times a year instead of once a month as promised, only making 33% of what was promised, and being paid under the table to keep clubs from viewing the women’s teams as a serious endeavor.
You can hear more of Caitlin Fisher’s experience as a female soccer player, and how the women were forced into femininity to sell their sport by growing out their hair, wearing tighter uniforms, and wearing makeup when the games are televised, in her Ted Talk.
Santos FC, one of Brazil’s top women’s clubs, folded citing “financial reasons,” though Fisher recalls being told they needed the funds to increase Neymar’s salary ten-fold. This prompted the start of the Guerreiras Project. The name comes from the Portuguese term “guerreira,” meaning female warrior, as they aim to be accepted in a country that views soccer as only a man’s sport. According to their site, the Guerreiras Project is:
“a collective of athletes, academics, activists, and artists, the Guerreiras Project is using futebol through various channels to raise questions around the regulation of bodies, the significance of empowerment, possibilities for resistance, and social justice within and beyond the game.”
I spoke with a former co-worker who was born and raised in Brazil. She shared in the sentiments that if you’re a woman in Brazil, you don’t want to be a soccer player, and that Marta has the right idea playing in the United States to earn a salary she can live on, because what other choice does she have?
This is Marta’s cry! Not just to have the next best players in line to replace them when they can no longer play, but to help change the stigma that women’s soccer is somehow less than that of the men. To continue the fight for the freedom and equality they deserve. To work hard, and cry now, so that the fruits of their continued labor can be celebrated later. Let’s work to encourage female athletes from a young age, your daughters, nieces, best friend’s girls are relying on us to help make a difference.