The most honored soccer player in the world isn’t Ronaldo, Pele or Maradona. It’s Marta, the 28-year-old Brazilian soccer star who has been named FIFA Player of the Year five consecutive times.

“From very early on, I played soccer with boys on the street and always could do better than they could,” Marta told Fusion’s Pedro Andrade in a one-on-one interview in Sao Paulo, conducted in her native Portuguese.

But despite her gift for the game, pursuing a soccer career wasn’t easy. With no female role models in the sport, Marta says she looked up to Rivaldo. And to succeed, she had to leave her hometown, joining a team in Rio de Janeiro when she was just 14.

“In the region I come from, it was not acceptable for a woman to play soccer. It was something absolutely masculine. So I really had no options,” she said.

Today, she’s the reigning queen of her sport, with a rhythmic style that has earned her the nickname “Pele con faldas,” or “Pele in skirts.” And she’s a leader off the field, serving as the sole female ambassador for this year’s World Cup and as a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

But while she’s a global star, she still can’t play professionally at home–because Brazil doesn’t have an official women’s soccer league.

“Because of that, progress for women’s soccer here doesn’t walk, it crawls,” Marta said. “Many of these girls have the qualifications the sport demands, but with no incentive, or sponsors or publicity, it’s impossible to move forward. It’s impossible to support yourself playing soccer if you’re a woman playing the game in Brazil.”


CREDIT: Pedro Andrade, Joanna Suarez, Carlos Navarrete, Bradley Blackburn

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