Published On: October 7, 2017

Women’s Football in Crisis

Share This


The firing of the first woman to coach Brazil’s national women’s football team has triggered the retirement of several top players and unleashed a torrent of criticism against the national federation over several issues related to its treatment of women.

Five players quit the program after the coach, Emily Lima, was removed last month after less than a year in the post in the wake of a series of poor results. Among those who have walked are Cristiane, a prolific striker and a veteran of four World Cups and four Olympics, and the veteran midfielder Francielle.

This week, the situation escalated when a group of former players published an open letter criticizing the federation. “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,” read the letter, which was signed by eight former players, including Cristiane and Francielle as well as the former World Cup stars Sissi, Rosana, and Formiga. “Yet we, and almost all other Brazilian women are excluded from the leadership and decision-making for our own team and our own sport.”



The crisis is the latest effort by women’s football players, most prominently the United States women’s national team, but also those representing Australia, Denmark, and other nations, to demand the broader respect and support they say they deserve from the federations that govern them.

But the Brazilians’ complaints also highlight broader sports governance issues. On Thursday, the police arrested the head of Brazil’s national Olympic committee amid an ongoing investigation into allegations that Rio de Janeiro secured the 2016 Games by paying bribes to International Olympic Committee voters.

The football federation that is the subject of the women’s players’ ire, CBF, continues to be run by Marco Polo del Nero, who remains the subject of an international arrest warrant after he was indicted on corruption charges by United States authorities probing corruption in FIFA.

Marta, for now still on the team

Marta, for now still on the team

While Brazil has produced some of the sport’s top female stars, including Marta — a five-time world player of the year who appears to be remaining with the national team, at least for now — the women’s game in the country, as it is in many other parts of the world, remains poorly promoted and lightly supported by its federation. In addition to the firing of Lima, appearance fees for national team players remain a bone of contention, and women remain absent from the CBF’s executive board.

“There are no meaningful pathways for former players to find their way into CBF and help to run their own game,” the letter written by the players said. “Over many years we have lived and watched in despair as Brazil’s women were neglected by CBF.”

Cristiane is the most high-profile of the five to have left the national team. She is one of the national team’s career scoring leaders, and she posted a 10-minute video on YouTube to explain her decision. “I dealt with it for 17 years,” she said, “but I can’t anymore.”

Cristiane said that while recent results had been poor, the team was enjoying working under Emily Lima, who was in the process of imposing a new style that would take time to develop. In the YouTube video, Cristiane pointed out that Lima’s predecessors, all men, had far longer to get things right. Lima’s replacement is Vadão, the man she replaced after the Rio Olympics. “Why didn’t she have the same opportunity? Because she’s a woman?”



[This article originally appeared in The New York Times in somewhat different form.]

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>