Marta and the Beautiful Game

Our open thread on the Women’s World Cup has certainly thrown up highly contrasting opinions, and this blog welcomes honest takes from all quarters. But perhaps the most interesting perspective on it I’ve seen so far comes from the Global Game blog, which features an interview with the biographer of Brazilian star Marta.

It’s very hard to accept any kind of patronising view towards the World Cup when we hear Marta’s story. That doesn’t mean one has to enjoy it or even watch it necessarily, but if one loves football, it’s impossible not to respect the passion and pride for the game shown by the players who just want to do what we all dreamt of once: represent their country at the highest level they can playing the intoxicating game we all can’t get enough of (a passion notably absent amongst certain male superstars in recent years when they’ve pulled on their country’s shirt).

Marta and her teammates have been advocating for a Brazilian league, but they are battling institutional inertia and a history that banned soccer for women until 1979. The federal government beginning in the 1980s limited sponsorship opportunities for women and prevented their competitions from being held at athletic grounds, consigning them to, in many cases, the beaches in Rio.

Copacabana Beach, in fact, in 1981 served as the venue for the first women’s tournament. The strongest women’s side through much of the 1980s, Esporte Clube Radar, used the beach as its home ground. Opposition to women playing football has been constant. The challenges range from the physical—Marta reports that her brother hit her when he found she was playing, and BBC columnist Tim Vickery’s girlfriend says she got similar lashings from her father (BBC Sport, Sept 10)—to the subtly patronizing gender stereotypes that frame women, in the main, as an object of the male gaze or as devoted disciples of home and church.

“Today, when I came into the field, I heard a guy say that I should be at a laundry sink, washing clothes,” said a Radar player in 1984. “But I did not bother to reply to him, although I was angry. My reaction came later, with the ball at my feet.”

And of course, it does come down to what happens when the ball is at a person’s feet. And boy, Marta has some feet, as this video demonstrates as she put five past Canada earlier this year (alright, the defending’s atrocious):