That guy in Rio de Janeiro who told me I can’t join the boys playing football

🗒️ Editor’s Note: This happened in 2014 when the writer, Trisha, was staying in Rio de Janeiro. This article does not imply that these events are relevant to today’s position of women in Brazil. The writer has not visited Rio since 2015 but is responsible for the events, characters, and timeline of this story.

Going to the World Cup 2014 has always been a goal for me. On June 12, 2014, I reached Rio de Janeiro, just in time for the opening of the World Cup. Brazil, as the world knows, is a football-addicted nation.

They even have the ball in their flag! Coming from a country that plays basketball as a national sport (we got it from our American influence), I was very happy to be in an environment where everyone breathes my favorite sport.

During the World Cup, my friends and I had a routine. Every morning, if we are not hung over from the previous night’s games, we hang out at the beach in Copacabana or Ipanema.

The beach was always full of Argentines, Germans, and Brazilians who came from all over the world to witness a great sporting event. Beaches in Rio are beautiful and are part of the carioca culture.

Even if it was full, we always found a place to lay our beach towels. It never stopped us from going to the beach. I believe part of the Rio Beach culture is being full of people all the time, and that it represents the city’s chill-out vibe – I kept wondering if these people even go to work as the beaches are loaded even on a Monday afternoon.

For most of my teenage years, I played football. It was my means of getting into good schools in my country. In the Philippines, sports scholarships are very common in schools so if you are a sports monster as a kid (especially our well-funded basketball), you will have the edge to go to school for free.

For most of my teenage years, I played football. It was my means of getting into good schools in my country. In the Philippines, sports scholarships are very common in schools so if you are a sports monster as a kid (especially our well-funded basketball), you will have the edge to go to school for free.

Not only that it saved my mom from expensive tuition fees but it also gave me the motivation to go to school. As most of you know, I hated learning in school, hence, the world traveled at an early age.

But being part of the school’s football team made me wake up early to go to school. I remember my morning checklist not being books, notebooks, or school projects, but shin guards, long socks, short socks, jerseys, shorts, and spikes.

We may not be the official Philippine team but my team is the best in scholastic leagues. Futsal, the 5-aside indoor football is what we are good at.

We didn’t have a space for field football as the men’s team was always a priority in using it so we did our best to train futsal on the basketball court, which we share with the women’s basketball team.

I’ve played football for most of my life, for as long as I can remember.

As they are a priority, too (yep, the Philippines is a basketball country), we have to wait for their training to finish from 7 pm – 9 pm.

We were not only varsity players but we were also students. Every day, we start training from 9 pm to 11 pm so you can imagine how much time we have left from traveling to our homes, showering, and doing our assignments.

I always arrive home at midnight, am super tired, and had no energy for scholastic requirements. I was actually holding on to that thin string that was about to break: I was already failing academics but I figured they can’t kick me out of school because I play for the football team. That was my immunity.

We weren’t the school’s priority when it comes to International games. There was one time when we were invited to Macau for a friendly game but the school “didn’t have” the budget. They were already sending the women’s basketball team for the event. The budget “wasn’t enough” to cover both teams.

But this didn’t stop us from playing. Our parents always supported the team with money from their own pockets so we continued to be the best women’s football team in the ivy league. Playing football as a teenager, as a girl, in a non-football country, was one of the greatest challenges I had come across with.

Up until today, football continues to be a sport dominated by men. It’s still not very common to have big women’s teams and if there are, they are not properly funded.

I also believe that one of the influences of my feminism comes from being part of a women’s team. We never realized (nor talked about it) how gender is considered when it comes to sports like football.

We were young girls and all we wanted to do was play. There weren’t any gender issues we were aware of that went with it. We played, played, and played.

I was already 26 years old when I went to Rio for the World Cup. But I don’t remember being confident about my feminism at that age. I wasn’t well-informed and didn’t know my place when it comes to women’s activism.

There were many boys playing football at Copacabana beach and though I hated playing beach football (running in the sand is hard as fck), I decided to come up to the boys and ask if I can play with them.

The boys playing were about 16 – 17 years old, accompanied by a huge Brazilian man who was smoking on the sidelines. Every once in a while, he’d shout some Portuguese phrases to them. It was easy to recognize that he is “the coach.”

My team won many major ivy leagues and yet, women sports teams are not always supported by our society.

I came up to him and said, in English, “may I join your team for a small game?”

He killed his cigarette in a beer bottle and looked at me. “You can play?” He asked. I was relieved when he responded to me in English.

My Portuguese was not as good at the time. I felt like a little girl asking my mom if I can play in the mud outside. I had no idea why I had to ask for permission when normally, I’d just jump  to the field and play.

“Look, darling, you seem to be a really sweet girl but these boys play rough. They are young and fast. I am not sure if you will be able to keep up.”

I don’t know if this response was a question of my physical ability or a question of gender. I mean, he said it nicely. He wasn’t impolite. But I guess that’s how the world is programmed to talk to women – with gentleness and delicacy.

Discouraged, I walked away without saying a word. I wasn’t that familiar with Brazilian culture yet. I felt like I would get into trouble if I get into an argument with a man, especially in a Latin American country like Brazil where women still haven’t taken their place in society.

Disregarding culture, I remembered I was trained as a child with “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” adage. I know I already asked and he declined politely but I had a feeling I didn’t try enough.

When someone says no to me, especially with something as simple as playing football, I always questioned why it can’t happen. Why am I not allowed? Why can’t I do that? Why are you stopping me?

Those whys made me turn around and talk to the man again. “I want to play and you will let me.” I firmly said. There were a lot of boys playing football at the beach that day. All goals were occupied.

I could’ve tried asking another group again but somehow, this man drew me. Though I am not compelled to, I had a strong desire to prove something.

I don’t remember how he responded but I remember going into the field with confidence. These boys might be younger and faster but I am sure I can keep up. At first, they weren’t passing the ball to me.

I was just running around like a lunatic, waiting for the ball to go my way. Finally, boy 1 accidentally passed the ball to me. It looked like he didn’t have a choice because I was the one closest to the goal.

I’ve played in mixed-gender football clubs before so I am familiar with the feeling: boys pass the ball to their girl teammates when they feel like girls are out of place.

Watch this video on my Instagram reels.

I was right in front of the goal and it was the perfect opportunity to score. To confuse the goalie, I dribbled the ball with my right foot and drove it to my left. I kicked it hard and scored a goal without passing the ball back to my “teammates.”

Mister old Brazilian man stood up, cheered, and applauded as if I just scored the goal of the century. From then on, my teammates passed the ball to me all the time. It was an unspoken rule that I will be Lionel Messi and wait near the goal for an easy score.

The boys did all the ball drives and I did all the scoring. Aside from the exhilarating feeling of playing football again after a long time, it felt very liberating to prove these boys wrong. Much more, to prove to the coach I have a place on the team.

After the friendly, I went up to the man and said, “Obrigada. Thank you for letting me play.” You will see that goodbye if you fast-forward the video above to the last seconds.

He gave me a kiss and he asked if I wanted to stay for a beer. I sat down with him and talked. His light changed. He seemed to be looking at me with so much joy compared to the first time he saw me.

“I have a daughter and I never encouraged her to play football. Today, your persistence changed my view about being a woman in the world. I hope that my daughter will grow up to be like you. I want her to be someone who goes after what she wants. I hope she won’t be discouraged by nos and whys.”

I will always remember those words because they made me realize how important a man’s role is in gender equality. The world is at a turning point. People everywhere understand and support the idea of gender equality.

They know it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. Men and people of all genders should stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible, and united force for gender equality.

When it comes to issues about women in society, men should not be on the sidelines. Men should work with women and with each other to build businesses, raise families, and give back to their communities.

To all the men in the world, this is a call of action to be involved in the lives of the women you love. Close your eyes and think about the world you want your mom, wives, sisters, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters: what do you see?

If you are one of the millions who believe that everyone is born free and equal, take action against gender bias, discrimination, and violence to bring the benefits of equality to us all.

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  1. Sheer determination can get you many places in your life and achieving the impossible. It is because of women like this that other girls suffering around the world have hope!

  2. I love this story. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end and even the dynamic character of the coach now want to teach his daughter soccer. Beautifully written.

  3. Thats amazing! Didnot know you were a football player. Do you still play? Women in sports everywhere seem to face similar issues and are passively/actively discouraged. Feels good to read such an inspiring tale.

  4. Never underestimate the strength of women! We are truly capable of doing the same tasks as men. Of course, without them, things wouldn’t be so much fun ?

  5. You’ve got to go after what you want…despite the no’s or why’s. Good for you for changing the life of the coach’s/ man’s daughter.

  6. So nice of him to say he’d like his daughter to be like you. And good for you for sticking to what you want regardless to gender etc.
    The whole story seems like a nice experience and it will be a nice tail to tell your kids one day. Inspirational, no doubt about that.

  7. I love how determined and dedicated you are to playing football! You can accomplish anything you put your mind to! xo – kam

  8. I can relate to what you mean when you say “We never realized (nor talked about it) how gender is considered when it comes to sports like football.” We learn and imbibe prejudices and stereotypes and that’s how they spread.

  9. I love this! I lead domestic violence classes for offenders and I have found the best way to get buy-in re equality and mutual respect is through examples using their kids. This shows how true that it. What a great memory.

  10. Always love soccer! Played it for years ever since I was young and in my adult years too. Great job on the goal.

  11. You’ve taught that guy a very important lesson and in a very mature way. You just opened so many doors and conversations for his daughter.

  12. Came across this post while browsing your blog and recognised my friend in the featured image photo (in braids). HAHA

    Awesome football player from Olongapo!

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