I was surprised recently when I read that the percentage of soccer players in Brazil who are female comes in at a paltry 1%. That's a small fraction of the 2 million registered soccer players in the country (according to a 2006 FIFA global survey, the most recent study on women's participation that could be found) and a shockingly low number, in a country that's known for it's love of the game. The number seems especially low given 53% of the Brazil's viewership during the 2010 Cup were women. In a country that lives, breathes and eats by the sport, it's surprising to see that "No Girls Allowed" when it comes to playing the game.
To put that number in context, almost 40% of registered soccer players in the US are women, with the majority of them under the age of 18. The US also has six times the number of soccer clubs compared to Brazil. Why, I wondered, was the number of women so low in the country's sport? Culture.
In 2012, Brazil's sports ministry pulled together a commission to better understand why there are so few women involved with playing the beloved sport. What they found was young girls were still being told it "was a boys game." In the US, we have Title IX, which states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." In Brazil, there's no such laws, titles or rules for females.
I started swimming when I was 8 years old. I swam summer league, club team and ended my career as a scholarship collegiate athlete, where my swimming ability and talents paid for my education. Many friends, in both swimming and other sports, were afforded the same opportunities and had their schooling paid for - either partial or in full - because of their success in athletics. Unfortunately, for these girls, they enjoy the sport and they want to play, but the opportunity just isn't there.
Growing up and before settling into swimming full time, I played soccer, baseball, did gymnastics and danced ballet, all of which contributed something to my childhood, either through smiles, structure or goal setting practices. Sometimes it's perspective that makes me have a greater appreciation for the little things that I perhaps take for granted, both then and now.