It seems that no matter how you spell or pronounce football, respect, and the struggle for it, is a universal theme in the women’s game.
For several senior members of the Brazilian Women’s National Team, the fight for respect and all it entails is at the core of their recent action to step away from the national team.
The song of respect is one that has already been sung on many different occasions by women’s national teams around the world – Spain, Costa Rica, United States, Nigeria, Cameroon and more recently Denmark, Argentina and of course Australia in 2015.
Brazil are the latest nation and, for a storied and celebrated program on the pitch, it also one of the more tragic developments.
‘We are now strong enough to try and do something’
For decades the most frightening thought in women’s football has been ‘what if the Brazilian federation decided to properly fund their women’s national team?’.
This is because, despite the haphazard and at times substandard resourcing, the Brazilian WNT had performed incredibly well at major tournaments including winning medals at the 1999 World Cup (bronze), 2007 World Cup (silver), 2004 Athens Olympic Games (silver), 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (silver).
As a member of the national team for past 18 years Rosana dos Santos Augusto has been a part of much of that success.
But no more.
Two weeks ago the 35 year old, and several of her teammates including Cristiane, Francielle, Andreia Rosa and Maurine, quit the national team.
“It’s been a long wait but we are now strong enough to try and do something,” said Rosana.
In an open letter to the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), the five recent retirees as well as several legends of the national team including Sissi and Formiga, outlined the issues they were protesting and that needed to be addressed by the CBF.
- poor treatment of women as leaders and player over many years
- the failure of CBF over many years to provide meaningful opportunities to the players to progress into leadership
- the lack of women in leadership roles in CBF, the absence of meaningful opportunities to enable women to take part in the management and governance of football
- the failure to support and nurture women’s football at all levels of the game, from the grassroots up
The players urged for gender equality reform in line with the governance changes FIFA has instituted in recent years – namely the inclusion of women on its Council.
‘She was fighting for us’
For many of the recent retirees, the catalyst for public action decades in the making was the firing of Brazilian coach Emily Lima.
Lima was relieved of her duties with the CBF citing a run of poor results including three recent losses to the Matildas at the Tournament of Nations and a two match friendly series in September.
Despite the poor results to nations such as Germany, the United States, Japan and Australia – all top 10 nations – 24 of a possible 26 members of the national team signed a letter urging the CBF to retain Lima.
“We asked the co-ordinator and the President of the CBF to keep her as our coach because she was doing a great job,” said Rosana.
“All the players were loving working with her and she was helping a lot the female football in Brazil.”
“She did so many things for the female football in Brazil. She was fighting for us.” Rosana dos Santos Augusto
“That’s why I don’t think it’s fair they changed her after only 10 months working with Brazilian national team.”
As a former player coming up through the Brazilian program, Lima was aware of the challenges present for female footballers in a country that has a strong machismo culture regarding the game.
Despite that, Lima was doing asking for better for her players.
“Off the field she was asking for better competition, she was asking for everything to be better for us.”
“On the field, she was trying to get back the Brazilian style. It means playing with possession, using our strengths, ability in the final third of the field.”
When there is an attitude in many programs that women should be ‘grateful’ to have a national team, asking for more can be a dangerous proposition.
“Because she fought too much not only on the field but off the field as well?” Cristiane asked of Lima’s firing in a YouTube statement.
“She was fighting with big names in Brazil,” said Rosana. “Its hard to fight against these big people.”
“They talked about revival, evolution of women’s soccer in our country. But with recent attitudes we see that in reality there is no real intention to support development of women’s soccer in Brazil,” concluded Formiga.
With Lima’s exit, so came the exit of almost 400 caps from the Brazilian national team.
Bigger than the national team
Having been involved of the game for close to two decades Rosana and her former national teammates believe it’s time the players – women – have a voice in the direction their game should progress.
“We, the players, have invested years of our own lives and all of our energy to build this team and this sport to its strength today,” said the Open Letter.
“Yet we, and almost all other Brazilian women, are excluded from the leadership and decision-making for our own team and our own sport.”
Rosana concedes that there has been some small changes at the national team level but states that it needs to be a more systemic change. A path towards autonomy in the governance of their game is vital and it needs to start from the top.
“This is my fight; they need to listen to the players,” she stated emphatically.
“I think CBF gave us better place to stay, better fields but I think we need more support in Brazil in general. Not only CBF.”
These include changes at grassroots to allow girls better access to the game. At the club Championship level which has only just seen changes in the past year. At the leadership level to allow women a better say in their own game.
“Put someone in big spots that can fight for female footballers. Who understands female football in Brazil, how it works, the players needs.”
“I think we need more women who already have been involved with female football in Brazil. The people who love the game, they are not only thinking about money but about progress in female football.”
“I think its is not only CBF fault but if they start it, probably the other governments, other clubs, other people will follow them.”
Fighting for change
Player power can often be construed as a damaging force within a football team. However in recent years many of the ‘player revolts’ have resulted in improved outcomes.
One player who has chosen to stay within the national team system is perhaps their most influential voice in Marta.
In speaking on Instagram, the five time World Player of the Year urged her teammates to stay and fight for change while within the system.
Marta giving her thoughts saying "they need to fight for things to get better" (via @Alexisx993).
Full translation welcome! pic.twitter.com/yPiNUqDaDa
— Ann Odong ? (@AnnOdong) September 28, 2017
“With respect to the girls who declared that they no longer go to the national team, this of course makes us very sad, they are athletes who still have much to offer,” she said.
“I hope they come back for us together to fight as we have always done our whole life, inside, being there, in the day to day, asking for improvements, asking for raise (salary), at last, whatever it takes.”
“But I will not stop serving the national team, whenever they call me I will willing and fighting always, as I always did.”
Fighting for change within or outside of a system has different challenges. However for Rosana, after close to two decades of fighting within, the time was right to step outside and forcefully work for change.
“I have been playing for the national team for 18 years and it never changed anything,” said Rosana.
“I think the only way to protest was stepping out and retiring from the national team so that the media, other players and clubs could see that I really want to change things but I need help to do it.”
It was the same sentiment from Cristiane in her YouTube statement.
“If I weren’t able to help that much during these 17 years as an athlete, I hope to help as a former athlete.”
“We have asked [for changes] and no-one listened so I got tired of asking.”
Unsurprisingly there has been support from all corners of the globe from those in football including players like Vero Boquete (who was the face of Spain’s action), former Mexican international Monica Gonzales, former Santos and Matidas player Joey Peters and football administrator Moya Dodd.
??It's happening!?One of the best is stopping because…women's football deserve better! Cris,you have all the respect of women's football ? pic.twitter.com/pqc5pzjvSV
— Verónica Boquete (@VeroBoquete) September 28, 2017
— Monica Gonzalez (@MonicaGonzo) October 6, 2017
The Brazilian fight for change, fight for respect is one that everyone in women’s football feels keenly. From the social player hoping for better facilities and pitches at their club to the national team player urging better workplace conditions.
“I really appreciate that [support] and I think together we are stronger,” said Rosana.
The CBF informs that it did not receive a copy of the letter of the former players of the Brazilian National Team and learned of the existence of the same through the press. He adds that there has never been a formal request from this group for a meeting with the organization’s president, Marco Polo del Nero. CBF Statement
“I saw many, many national teams protest and willing to fight for the country, for the players and for female football. That was our power to start something here in Brazil.”
“We need everyone fighting for female football who really love it and I can guarantee that I will do my 100% my best to make it that the next generation has a better support than I had.”
How this struggle will end still remains to be seen but for Rosana dos Santos Augusto it was a necessary step that needed to be taken.
“If those national teams can do it, then why we can’t. We have to start something.”
Since the release of the Open Letter, the CBF have released statement denying the receipt of the letter. However, a formal meeting has now been organised between Del Nero and the players for 17 October 2017.