Sao Paulo: At the foot of a Sao Paulo slum, 10 girls played a football game in a cold gym, fighting for goals and acceptance in Brazil’s male-dominated sport.
While the country’s attention is on the World Cup and Brazil star forward Neymar, the girls of the Rosinha favela quietly dream of getting equal treatment in the land of the “jogo bonito” (beautiful game).
Ana Julia de Souza, 12, chose football shorts over a ballet tutu even though her father does not approve.
“My dad doesn’t like it very much when I come here. He wants me to go to ballet lessons,” she said. “But I prefer to play football.”
Souza’s favorite players are Brazil’s David Luiz, Marcelo and Hulk, an she hopes her heros can lift a sixth World Cup trophy.
A growing number of Brazilian women are learning the art of dribbling and tackling, and more than 5,000 are playing in local championships.
But they have yet to get a professional league to call their own, despite being the home of football legend Marta, who has been named the FIFA women’s world player of the year five times.
Marta told AFP in a recent interview that she wants Brazil to have “several women who can become role models for young women in female football.”
Women players launched an online petition during the World Cup to demand that President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female leader, introduce legislation to regulate women’s football and give them a professional league.
The US Consulate and Brazilian cultural organization SESC have opened a football school for girls between the ages of 13 and 15 near Sao Paulo’s World Cup stadium, the Corinthians Arena.
The futsal gym at the Rosinha slum is run by J12, a non-governmental organization that wants to help girls break the glass ceiling.
“It is very hard for a woman to dedicate herself to football,” said Jessica Spinola, a 26-year-old two-time world futsal champion and co-founder of J12.
“We lack resources, we lack support, we lack professionalism,” she told AFP. “Plus, there is prejudice.”
“Football is a very macho world. It’s a national passion, but only for men,” said the player known as Jessiquinha.
About 40 girls aged 10 and older practice futsal three times per week at the gym. The building gets cold in the Sao Paulo winter because the top of the walls are surrounded by open metal beams.
“This is not just to play. It’s to get the girls out of the street and show them that sport can change their lives, that they have to study and be dedicated,” said Spinola, whose organization makes sure the girls attend school.
Several girls have moved on to Sao Paulo clubs that have female teams.
“I love scoring goals,” said Beatriz de Carvalho, 11.
Like most of the players, Carvalho is black and comes from a humble family.
“People think that because we like football we’re tomboys, but that’s not the case,” said Vitoria Santana, 12.
Thais Moraes, a 22-year-old who plays with the older girls, said she had to endure a lot to be accepted by men.
“They made fun of me. I suffered a lot,” she said. “But now things are changing, thankfully.”