Bend it Like Marta

“Watch out, boys!”

My eldest daughter wants to play football.

So I took the eight-year-old with her brother, six, to have a go at a summer football clinic in Pinamar, where we are spending the summer on the coast of Argentina.

She put on her Argentina jersey, so did her brother and their younger sister, who is three. She tagged along with her own ball to have a play with daddy while the others trained.

I looked at my eldest daughter, a die-hard fan of Argentina and Carlos Tevez.

She was jumping up and down, warming her legs for the session.

I smiled nervously. I wanted to warn her about the machismo in Argentina, her own country, and that the boys might not want to play with a girl. They may not pass to a girl and they may tackle her just as if she was a boy, and it may hurt.

For all the greatness of Argentine football and players like Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Tevez, and for all the fervor of matches between Boca Juniors and River Plate, women are absent from the game. At best they are on the sidelines or simply included as girlfriends or wives.

Do I want my eldest daughter to enter the pitch of this macho sport? To play with the boys?

She likes surfing, skateboarding, playing guitar, reading, art, science, and she wants a cowboy hat for when she learns to ride a horse. That is, a cowgirl hat. All of these are open to boys and girls. Not football in Argentina.

Should I dissuade her?

Should we move to a country where girls play football?

I loved the movie “Bend it Like Beckham,” where girls shined as players, not as counterparts. That’s England, where my daughter has a girl cousin who plays football in a league. American women have whipped ass on the world in football. Germany and Japan, too. Brazil? It puts Argentina to shame, especially with talent like Marta. Argentina? It’s done squat. It doesn’t even have a semi-professional women’s football league.

So I think, I’d better warn her more discouragingly.

“You know,” I start, looking at her in the eyes as she runs in place to warm up, “the boys…”

But she interrupts.

“I know, I know, Dad,” she says. “The boys don’t like to play with the girls. It happens at school and I have to take the ball from them – from the boys, from the boys on the other team. And from the boys on my team because they don’t pass it to me. So I go and I take the ball from them and run it to the goal and shoot. That’s what I do.”

I look at her and smile and say, “Ok, let’s go play.”

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