Lea Campos: The Brazilian who battled prejudice & patriarchy to become a referee

Campos was one of the first female referees in football – she had to fight for the right to work

In 1971 Brazil, most people would think long and hard before going anywhere near General Emilio Garrastazu Medici. The country’s then-president was a fearsome figure whose brutally repressive military rule relied on systematic torture and the assassination of dissenters. But Lea Campos was about to go and see him.

Campos believed Medici could help in her power struggle with Brazil’s sporting authorities – led by the all-powerful Joao Havelange, who would soon become president of world football governing body Fifa.

Four years earlier, Campos had qualified as a referee. She was one of the first women in the world to do so but the CBD, the authority that ruled over all sport in Brazil, refused to let her work.

The South American country was one of many where organised women’s football was banned – England was another. As a matter of fact, legislation passed in 1941 excluded women in Brazil from a series of sports. Havelange, who had presided over the CBD since 1958, believed that the ban also applied for refereeing. According to Campos, he made his views quite clear.

“Havelange first told me that women’s bodies weren’t suitable for refereeing men’s games,” Campos, now 77, tells BBC Sport.

“He later said that things like having periods would make my life difficult. He ended up insisting that women would not be referees for as long as he was in charge.”

It was not the first time Campos found herself battling for a break into the sport she loved.

In this team photo taken in Sao Paulo, Campos is second from the left in the back row

Born in 1945 in Abaete, a small town in the south-eastern Brazilin state of Minas Gerais, Campos became interested in football at an early age and fondly remembers kicking improvised bundles made of socks. She faced discouragement from all sides.

“I was always trying to play football with the boys at school, but teachers would stop me and say it wasn’t appropriate,” she recalls.

“As for my parents, they also said that it wasn’t something for a lady to be involved with.”

Her mother and father nudged her into beauty pageants instead. She would routinely…


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