That guy in Rio de Janeiro who told me I can’t join the boys play football
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 who 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 is 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 beaches 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 have 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 have 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 a motivation to go to school. As most of you know, I hated learning in school, hence, the world travel 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, jersey, 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 were always a priority in using it so we did our best to train futsal in the basketball court, which we share with the women’s basketball team. As they are priority, too (yep, 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, 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 continue 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 come 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 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. They 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.”
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 the 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 the 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 him 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.
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 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 the coach I have a place in the team.
This video is really old. For better quality, watch in HD.
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 that 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 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. Commit to the #HeForShe movement today and change the terrain of this world made for men.