This is the seventh in a multi-part series on women in sport.
Chapter 1 explored the early days of the Olympic movement, Chapter 2 grapples with the struggles of sexual identity, Chapter 3 looks at the influence of the media on gender views and Chapter 4 Part 1 and Part 2 discusses the sexualisation of women’s sport, Chapter 5 unpacks the unique obstacles facing female athletes in India and Chapter 6 examines women in parasport.
Chapter 7: When women coach male footballers
‘Women belong in the kitchen.’ This is a sexist phrase that looked to — or at least needs to — be banned from the daily vocabulary. But, believe me, it is still in some men’s beliefs to date. Just ask Nilmara Alves Pinto, a 37-year-old who tries to thrive in a field that just a few women on earth have ever dared to get into — men’s professional football.
Her struggle is like any sportswoman’s in the modern world. She faces prejudice on a daily basis just for being who she is. It gets even worse being the head coach of Manthiqueira, a club that plays in the fourth division of the Sao Paulo State Championship in Brazil.
Nilmara has always had football coursing through her veins and had always dreamt of being a player. Her life, however, went a completely different way.
“I started my physiotherapy course at university and suddenly my love for coaching began to increase. At first, though, I was only thinking of managing women’s teams. I had never thought of training men before, especially in a professional level,” she told the Sports Gazette.
First, Nilmara opened a football academy mainly for boys in the small city of Aparecida that, more recently, became ‘home’ for girls who wanted to start practicing the sport as well. Years later, she met Dado Oliveira — Manthiqueira’s chairman — for the first time and got offered the job as the club’s U17’s physio.
“I know that football is mainly a men’s field, so women don’t have that many opportunities. I knew that the chance of working with professional male footballers was somewhat remote,” she said.
However, 12 months were enough for Nilmara to flirt with the possibility of achieving her biggest dream.
She explained: “We had a preliminary meeting and I laughed at first because I thought that Dado was just joking me. After a couple of weeks, he called me again and offered me the job. He told me to think about it. That’s when I realised that it wasn’t a joke anymore.
“I accepted it because I knew it would be the biggest challenge of my life. I was about to show that women are also able to work with men in a professional level in football too.”
And if you think that sexist jokes were Nilmara’s biggest fears and would make her weaker, you are mistaken. In fact, she uses the insults as fuel to be even better and prove everyone wrong.
“I was aware of all that when I accepted the job to be honest with you,” she said. “The chairman also asked me if I was ready to hear fans cussing me out and saying things like ‘bitch,’ ‘women belong in the kitchen,’ ‘dyke’ or even worse than that.
“I know that football is moved by passion and that when people’s blood boils, they say irrational stuff. This just doesn’t bother me at all.”
Strength, independence, courage or boldness, you name it. Still seeking her first title as a professional coach, Nilmara Alves fights against the odds and she is now ready to become an example for other women too.
She said: “One of the reasons that made me accept the job was to show that women can and need to be keen on proving their capacity amongst men.
“I know countless women that have a big potential but don’t have the same opportunity as I had. They have to believe in them and perhaps we can see more women in the same position as mine in the future.”
Featured photograph/Nilmara Alves Pinto