Women’s football: Forbidden

Women’s football has already experimented different stages: from the timid beginnings and amateurism, to having the current global presence, with continental tournaments and World Cups (although still with many prejudices and minimal support, but that’s matter for another post – or several).

However, the history of women’s football has a time of which we know almost nothing: the period of prohibition.

Clube Atlético Mineiro (1959). Fuente: Women, disobedience and resilience. Google Arts & Culture

«Women will not be allowed to practice sports incompatible with the conditions of their nature, and for this purpose, the National Sports Council must communicate the necessary instructions to the sports entities of the country.»

Thus stated Article 54 of Decree-Law 3,199, published on April 14, 1941, which prohibited the practice of certain sports for women in Brazil. What is «its nature»? Who decides if they are incompatible and why?

The truth is that, at the time, many people still believed that women should be preserved for motherhood, that their bodies were very fragile for sports and that the physical contact that characterized some disciplines was not «adequate» for their body and their feminine ways. Even before the ban came into effect.

Despite not being directly cited in the decree, football, weightlifting, baseball, wrestling and other practices were prohibited.

The greatest paradox: it is the same decree that, during the Getúlio Vargas government, «establishes the bases for the organization of sports in the country and creates the National Sports Council,» to guide, supervise and encourage the practice of sports in the country ” (Art. 1).

In 1965, through Deliberation n. 7 of the National Sports Council, it is expressly indicated that «(women) are not allowed to practice combat sports of any kind, football, futsal, beach soccer, water polo, polo, rugby, weightlifting and baseball.»

Clube Atlético Mineiro (1959). Fonte: Women, disobedience and resilience. Google Arts & Culture

Always rebellious

«Despite the ban, women continued playing, but their achievements could not be registered, they could not appear officially in the federation records. With this, an invisibility in the history of women in sport arose. They  were there, but they did not appear. The silence does not mean absence”, says Silvana Goellner, a gender and physical education researcher at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (cited in this article).

At that time, came up names such as the referee Lea Campos, who was arrested 15 times during the ban; Marileia «Michael Jackson» dos Santos, Brazilian prominent scorer; the players of the Ponte Preta de Jacareí team, who were organized in 1969 to end the prohibition, and also from teams in different cities, all stories of women playing football.

The creation of the Joint Parliamentary Investigation Commission (Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito, CPMI), in 1976 to examine the situation of women in all sectors of activities was a first step to establish some recommendations for equal opportunities for both sexes in all areas.

However, the decree was enforced until 1979. The end of the ban did not change the situation of helplessness, prejudice, lack of regulation, organization and encouragement that were constant in women’s football. Only in 1983 women’s football was regulated in Brazil.

Many of the stories and achievements that occurred during that time remain in the dark and unpublished. We know little about the women who faced the ban and continued practicing the sport they loved.

In addition to the loss of memories, it is also important to highlight the lack of investment and structures in that period, which probably still impacts women’s football (and female sports in general) today.

Museum of the impediment – Museu do impedimento

*Impedimento, in Portuguese, can be used to refer to the prohibition or impossibility of doing something, but also to name the offside rule in football.

One of those efforts to try to fill the historical void left by the ban is the book: “Prohibited women: the ban on women’s football in the São Paulo press” (‘Mulheres Impedidas: A proibição do futebol feminino na imprensa de São Paulo’), by historian Giovana Capucim e Silva.

The research began as her master’s case of study, reviewing documents and publications of the time.

On the other hand, the project «Museum of Impediment (Museu do Impedimento)» was presented, in an association between the Football Museum (Museu do Futebol) and Google.

“A few months before the tournament (World Cup 2019), we thought about how we could help to give light to the history of women’s football and inspire new generations of girls to practice this sport. It was when, during our research on the subject, we found this little-known chapter, a blank page that deserves to be written: for almost four decades, between 1941 and 1979, it was forbidden for women to play soccer and participate in official championships in Brazil», the creators commented.

Using the slogan «if part of this story still remains blank, the time has come to tell it», the Museum of Impediment/Museu do impedimento emerged as a collaborative platform, since fans could send images, documents, stories and any material to help in the reconstruction and documentation of that historical moment.

«Today we are proud to present dozens of stories received by the Museu do Impedimento project.» After a curation by our fellow specialists from the Football Museum, the content is exhibited in Google Arts & Culture in six virtual exhibitions with 205 photos, documents, stories and newspaper articles about players and teams that defied the law and continued their path in this sport. Discover the complete collection at g.co/museudoimpedimento”.

On other borders

Brazil was not the only country with this type of bans.

Specifically, in the case of football, from 1921 to 1979 was a time of strong laws and blockages for women’s teams, leagues and tournaments.

With the same arguments, reinforcing that the practice of this sport was not suitable for women, England, Germany and France, to speak of the most notable cases, also decided not to allow women to be within the field.

  • England: Banned from 1921 to 1971 because «soccer is not suitable for women and should not be encouraged,» according to the Football Association (FA) at the time.
  • Germany: Banned from 1955 to 1970, alleging the frailty of women’s bodies and the aggressiveness of football. The return to playing football was initially with conditions: women could play only in warm weather, it was not allowed to use cleats, the ball was smaller and the duration of the game was 70 minutes.
  • France: The French First Division (Women) was created in 1918. However, from 1932 to 1975, women’s football was banned in that country.

As in Brazil, the players kept practicing soccer, despite the risks.

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