Lea Campos: The Brazilian Who Battled Prejudice & Patriarchy To Become A Referee
Most people in Brazil in 1971 would think twice before approaching General Emilio Garrastazu Medici. The country’s then-president was a terrifying man whose brutally harsh military reign included widespread torture and dissenter killing. Lea Campos, on the other hand, was about to visit him.
Campos hoped that Medici could assist her in her power struggle with Brazil’s sporting authorities, which were commanded by the all-powerful Joao Havelange, who would go on to become the president of the world football regulatory organization Fifa. Campos had qualified as a referee four years prior. She was one of the first women to do so in the world, but the CBD, Brazil’s governing body for sports, refused to allow her work.
The South American country was one of many that outlawed organized women’s football, with England being one of them. In reality, a law passed in 1941 in Brazil barred women from participating in a number of sports. Havelange, who had ruled over the CBD since 1958, thought the restriction applied to referees as well. According to Campos, he expressed himself clearly.
“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.