Marta Vieira da Silva is one of the best football players in the world. She holds the record for goals scored in World Cups, playing in six of them defending Brazil's national football team and has a career spanning over 20 years on the field. And now her name is also the annual award given to the best goal scored in women’s football.
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) January 15, 2024
Besides having an award honoring her, Marta also received the Special Award during FIFA's annual ceremony given to footballers with outstanding career achievements. In Brazil, her career changed the national status of women's football for good.
During a heartfelt speech, giving thanks, which she delivered in Portuguese, Marta said:
Eu quero que, assim como estou enxergando essa homenagem, quero que todas as mulheres possam enxergar um futuro promissor, onde não seja direcionado somente ao futebol, ao esporte, mas a qualquer atividade. O que a gente busca diariamente é fazer com que o mundo seja melhor para todos, sem distinção, buscar igualdade, respeito. E deixo essa mensagem para todos que tem o poder de transmitir essa mensagem, que façam, porque as próximas gerações vão agradecer, assim como agradecemos a um Ronaldo, um Zagallo, um Pelé.
I want that, just as I'm seeing this honoring, all women can see a promising future, not only aimed at football, sport, but in any other activity. What we look for everyday is to make the world a better place for all, no distinction, we look for equality, respect. And I leave this message to all who have the power to carry it on, do it, because the next generations will thank you, just as we appreciate Ronaldo, Zagallo, Pelé.
Since 2019, there has been a mandatory rule for all football clubs playing in the main league in Brazil to have a women's team. Last year, it was announced that by 2027 the rule shall be expanded to all four divisions of the Brazilian championship.
Among the clubs from three main divisions in Brazil's football today, there is only one woman president, Leila Pereira, from Palmeiras. On January 17, Pereira called a press conference exclusively for women journalists. She brushed off those who complained about the initiative, telling them to ”not be hysterical.” During the interview, she said:
Não pode ser normal. Ter uma mulher só na frente de um grande clube na América do Sul. Isto não é normal. Por que acontece? Porque sofremos diversas restrições que nos impedem de chegar aonde podemos chegar.
It can't be normal. To have only one woman heading a major league club in South America. That is not normal. Why does it happen? Because we suffer several restrictions that stop us to get where we can get at.
Marta was born and raised in a town called Dois Riachos, in the northeastern state of Alagoas, with a population of 11,000 at the time. There, she learned how to play the game in fields of dirt, the only girl among boys, saying she would rather have a ball than a doll.
Her father left the family when she was a baby, and her mother would leave at 5:00 a.m. to cultivate crops, only returning at night, as Marta herself recalled in an article published on The Players’ Tribune website entitled ”Letter to my Younger Self”:
Whenever it rained, she would catch the water to help grow food for the family to eat back home. When she wasn’t on the farm, she’d head over to city hall, where she’d clean and serve coffee. So you never saw her that much. She never really got the chance to come to your games or watch you play.
Women's football became legal in Brazil only three years before Marta was born, in 1983. The sport remained forbidden for women in the country that considered itself ”the land of football” for over 40 years. The dictatorship in place in 1941 ruled that women weren't allowed to practice sports in ”incompatible conditions to their nature,” arguing it could affect their abilities to become mothers and housewives.
At 14, Marta got on a bus and left her hometown, heading to Rio de Janeiro, embarking on a trail that led her to play tryouts with second-hand boots, ”oversized and stuffed with newspaper at the toe to make them fit,” to becoming a professional athlete, playing in international stadiums, with fans wearing jerseys with her name above the number 10. Some of the superstars of men's football who have worn the number 10 shirt at club or national level are Pelé, Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona, Mesut Özil and Lionel Messi.
Marta played in teams in Rio and Belo Horizonte and got a call that led her to Sweden, and she is currently playing at Orlando Pride in the United States.
In 2006, she won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the first time, and then repeated the feat another five times (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2018). Marta also defended Brazil's national team in six World Cups — the last one in 2023 — and scored a record 17 goals, as the federation website recounts:
…more than any other player – regardless of gender – in the history of the World Cup. She is also one of only three players to have scored at five World Cups, along with Christine Sinclair and Cristiano Ronaldo.
In 2008, Pelé, the Brazilian legend, who some considered the greatest player of all times and is nicknamed ”The King,” called Marta ”Pelé in skirts.” In an interview, he celebrated the rising star that she was becoming in Brazil at the time:
Soube que mais de 60 mil torcedores foram prestigiar a seleção brasileira. Quem podia imaginar isso?
I've heard that over 60,000 people showed up to honor the Brazilian national team. Who could imagine that?
Beyond the field, Marta also became a champion for equal rights. In the 2019 World Cup, she posed with a boot that didn't show any sponsoring brand mark. Ever since then, she has been wearing boots covering up their brands, showing only a pink and blue sign for gender equality.
Marta refused all sports brands’ proposals to sponsor her because she considered the amount offered unfair compared to her male counterparts.
Also, in 2019, she entered the field wearing dark purple lipstick — a beauty and cosmetics brand had just signed a sponsoring contract with her. And so, the lipsticks she wears in matches also became a thing.
For the generations coming after her, however, that has hopefully changed:
It makes me so proud that maybe there are kids out there watching me, and that it may inspire them to reach for the stars. That would mean the world to me. It would be more valuable to me than any titles or medals or trophies that I have won. Being someone little girls could look up to, someone who showed them their dreams could come true? Having an impact like that, having that as a legacy? That, to me, is all I could dream of.
We have come so far. And I am beyond excited to see where things go next.