The history of women's football in Brazil
Similar to other countries like Germany and England, historically women’s participation in sports was generally not considered positive in Brazil. Some modalities like weightlifting, fights, water polo, rugby, and football were especially problematic and not welcome by the Brazilian dominant paternalistic society.
The first women's football matches in the country dated back to 1913. Later on, friendly and charitable games took place. They were often related to religious communities and treated as a seldom activity that was suppressed by paternalistic-led moralism. In 1940, the interest in women's football increased and women were allowed to play in big stadiums like Pacaembu (São Paulo). The media coverage on this performance caused intense debate between those who supported the initiative and those who preached moralism.
An announcement published in the newspaper Correio da Manhã by Primavera Futebol Clube, recruiting girls aged 15 to 25 for a team triggered a prohibition on women’s football in 1941.
The main reason for the prohibition was similar to reasons given for the same purpose in other countries and was related to the fact that women should not take part in sports that are incompatible with the conditions of their nature because of health damages. In 1965, the military regime reinforced the prohibition to disallow the feminine practice of fights of any nature like soccer, polo, weightlifting, and baseball. Women in football pitches were illegal and criminalized.
The opening to women's football would only happen in a context of increasing individual freedom in the last years of the military regime and teams began to reappear in some cities. In 1979, the deliberation was revoked, which allowed the creation of the first league for women in 1981. Unfortunately, the end of the ban did not mean that women's football was fostered by the government and sports organising bodies.
It was only after 1982 when FIFA's president João Havelange sent an official letter to all federations to support female football that the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) assumed the responsibility of developing the women’s game.
Like in many countries around the globe, for Brazilian female footballers, playing football meant much more than practicing a sport. It was also about emancipation and equal rights. According to Capucim (2015), despite being legally forbidden, the state was not the strongest barrier that kept girls away from the pitches. The patriarchal society, by supporting stereotypes related to femininity and heterosexuality, represented the strongest barrier.
The effects of the prohibition lasts until now with few investments and recognition of women's football revealing that prejudice did not disappear with the end of the ban.
The Brazilian women’s team played their first official game in 1986 against the United States in an international friendly game and was defeated 2 - 1. Since then, the women’s game in the “footballing nation” has been developing, while struggling against unsupportive media, governments, and sports governing bodies.
The next article in this series will look at the precarious situation of women’s football in Brazil today.
- Ana Costa is a journalist and researcher at the German University of Sport. She is currently writing her master's thesis on the process of personal brand building of German and Brazilian football team national players.