Google’s New Digital Museum Will Honor The Overlooked Pioneers Of Women’s Soccer

by JR Thorpe
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Women's soccer is filled with dramatic moments and amazing athleticism — but you wouldn't necessarily notice. In contrast to male soccer players, who have historically earned the lion's share of endorsements and fame, female players worldwide have often faced serious challenges to their ability to get on the pitch. Now, Google Arts & Culture is launching the Offside Museum to honor women soccer players and pioneers who have yet to get the recognition they deserve.

Starting May 30, the museum is accepting digital submissions of women in soccer's hidden history who deserve to be better known. The museum's name comes both from the "off sides" rule, one of the main laws of soccer play, meaning that a player is in the incorrect position on the field — only for many years, this rule applied to women in any place on the field. The UK and many other countries actually banned women from playing soccer up until 1979, a press release from Google states, but if you didn't know that, you wouldn't be alone. Many of the stories at the Offside Museum are about women who played in secret, defying laws and convention to push the history of soccer forward.

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The rationale behind the bans on women's soccer differed worldwide, but were often down to pseudo-medical fears about women's health and childbearing capacity; the Football Association in the UK released a statement about its ban saying that football was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” There was also a paternalistic streak to the laws; professional women's soccer was banned in Australia by officials afraid that female players would be exploited for money.

The woman whose story features most prominently on the Offside Museum right now is a quintessential soccer pioneer: referee Léa Campos, the world's first female professional soccer referee, who fought against a gender ban in Brazilian soccer in the 1970s and was arrested 15 times for her efforts on the pitch. In countries where play by women was punishable by the law, both players and referees risked a great deal to continue the game they loved.

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It's a story that, regrettably, continues to be repeated in other ways today. Soccer remains out of reach for millions of women worldwide due to cultural and religious pressures, according to a report from TIME magazine in 2015, and even in countries where it's legal, discrimination against women's teams remains an issue. The U.S. women's team is currently in the process of suing for equal pay, arguing that being paid less than the men's team — despite being far more successful in international tournaments — represents gender discrimination, while the German women's team has released a searing video as part of their FIFA World Cup campaign, fighting against pervasive sexism. Their first prize for a European championship win in 1989? A tea set.

The final form of the Offside Museum, with contributions from the public worldwide, is set to be unveiled on June 24, as the world's top female teams compete in the FIFA Women's World Cup in France. The U.S. team will enter the tournament with a number one world ranking and are heavily favored to take home the trophy. Whoever wins, though, there are hundreds of women obscured by history who've contributed to the survival of women's soccer — and if you know any of them, the Offside Museum is the place to tell their story.