Brazil lets public employees start work late to watch women’s World Cup

When Brazil beat Panama 4-0 in the women’s World Cup in Australia on Monday, they were reportedly cheered on by more than 11 million fans in front of TV screens at home.

The viewership numbers were boosted by Brazil’s government, which decided to allow public employees to shift their work schedules around the national team’s matches during the tournament.

The World Cup is hosted in Australia and New Zealand and runs through August 20. Government employees will have two hours after the final whistle of games involving the Seleção — or “selection,” as the country’s team is known — to turn up to work, Management Minister Esther Dweck said last week.

Brazil has made the same allowance when its men’s team — the most successful in World Cup history — plays on soccer’s highest stage, but this is the first time the measure has been extended to women’s games, according to Dweck.

It is meant to bring about a new era of visibility for women’s soccer in Brazil, Dweck and two other female ministers wrote in a Friday column for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. “Ensuring the presence of women in environments traditionally occupied by men, such as football, is transformative,” they wrote.

That kind of support would have seemed unfathomable a decade ago even in soccer-mad Brazil, which has traditionally shown much less enthusiasm for its female players.

Marta, the Brazilian forward who has scored in more World Cup games than any other person, called out the country’s attitude in a 2014 interview with TPM, a Brazilian magazine.

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“If I were an athlete from a country like the U.S., that is strong in women’s football … and I won the title of best player in the world five times, the attention I got would be much bigger,” she said. “Financially, it would probably be very different as well. This is a reflection of the situation of women’s football in Brazil, which still doesn’t recognize its athletes.”

Now, women’s soccer is booming in popularity across the world. FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, said that a record 1.12 billion people watched the previous women’s World Cup in 2019. Last summer, more than 87,000 people crowded into Wembley Stadium in England — where sports authorities once maintained a decades-long ban on women’s soccer — to watch the national team beat Germany to claim a European Championship title.

Massive crowds have also greeted successful players in places such as Vietnam that are not traditionally regarded as bastions of women’s soccer.

Some feared that holding the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which are in an earlier time zone than almost anywhere else in the world — Sydney is currently 13 hours ahead of Rio de Janeiro and 14 hours ahead of Washington — would deter audiences in the western hemisphere.

But the millions of Brazilians who took the morning off work and switched on the TV about 8 a.m. were rewarded with a hat-trick of goals by forward Ary Borges, who also plays for Racing Louisville in the National Women’s Soccer League. The team’s fourth goal, off the boot of Bia Zaneratto after a masterful series of passes, had media critics wondering whether it was the best goal of the tournament so far.

Viewers also saw Brazil’s Marta play in her sixth, and likely final, World Cup.

Brazil has come close to World Cup glory, finishing third in 1999 and second in 2007, but it has struggled to reach those heights since.

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