News   |    February 17th, 2022

Courageous Campos

Brazil, a country famed for producing some of the world’s most incredible footballers, from Pele to Neymar, retains a status as a footballing powerhouse on the international stage. Having secured one of their five World Cups in 1970, you would think the country must be providing such an effective and all-inclusive footballing programme in order to produce such talent. But you know what you would be wrong!!

Under the rule of General Emilio Garrastazu Medici, Brazilians were subject to a repressive military rule which relied on systematic torture and the assassination of dissenters. Unlike modern times, women were not even allowed to kick a football let alone play in matches. In response, Lea Campos, a young woman with a passion for football decided to qualify as a referee in 1967, yet was later refused by the sporting authorities in Brazil to actually referee competitive fixtures. João Havelange, who had presided over the CBD (Sporting authorities) since 1958, believed that “women’s bodies weren’t suitable for refereeing men’s games”.

As it was illegal for Campos to play in games, her passion had to be fulfilled in an alternative way, and as she recalls, “being a referee was a way to get in”. There was nothing specifically against it in the law – women were banned from kicking a ball but there was no mention of blowing whistles. Subsequently, Campos spent years pleading to the CBD and Havelange for women to become involved. She sought to raise awareness by organising friendly matches where she could officiate, some involving women players but these were often broken up by police. In times of severe repression in Brazil such ‘dissent’ wasn’t taken lightly; consequently Campos claims she was arrested “at least 15 times”.

After much persistence, she managed to secure a lunch with General Medici. Given the dictatorship and fearsome reputation of their President, this meeting wasn’t to be taken lightly. However, interestingly, Campos was successful and later given her referee’s licence. This ultimately catapulted her refereeing career, albeit predominantly focusing on lower division matches, Campos was still able to exercise her passion. Unfortunately, what with cultural differences and the era, Lea was subject to prejudice, however shefondly recalls being treated mostly the same as a male referee on the whole.

Fast forward to 2020 and the number of female referees in the UK has increased by 72% since 2016, as there are 2,146 women officiating across all levels. This shows how one courageous woman, with so many circumstances and obstacles, managed to prove that they are more than capable and should be treated as equal officials. Despite the increase in female officials, there is still a long way to go to attain full equality. We must continue to support whoever wants to become involved in football, because it is ultimately an all-inclusive game and should be enjoyed by anyone from anywhere. History is important, and understanding the efforts of people to get to where we are now is vital to how we move forward for the benefit of the game, and those already and wanting to be involved with it.

Image – Reuters

Alfie Bobbins - Integral Sports Management

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