Entering the Tokyo Olympics, Brazilian soccer player Formiga already owned the record for most Olympic appearances by a soccer player (6). But on Wednesday, she made her 7th Olympic appearance, playing 72 minutes in Brazil’s 5-0 win over China. She is the first athlete to compete at seven Olympics in any team sport.
Formiga, 43, also became the oldest soccer player in Olympic history, breaking the previous record by three years, according to Olympedia.org.
To put Formiga’s longevity into perspective: the first women’s soccer World Cup was held in 1991. Formiga was not there, but only because she was 13 years old at the time.
She has not missed a World Cup since. She has competed in seven World Cups – a record for men or women.
When women’s soccer made it’s Olympic debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games? Formiga was there.
She has competed in every women’s soccer tournament in Olympic history, winning back-to-back silver medals in 2004 and 2008.
While some athletes may feel like they were born to play their sport, when Formiga was born in 1978, there was a Brazilian law that banned women from playing soccer.
In 1941, Brazil’s National Sports Council introduced an article stating that “women will not be allowed to practice sports incompatible with the conditions of their nature.” That ban on so-called “violent” sports – which included soccer – lasted until at least 1979 (though some sources cite 1981).
Of course, women didn’t stop that from letting them play. Brazilian soccer player Sissi, who was born in 1967 and played alongside Formiga in the 1990s, told SBNation in 2019, “I heard about this law, and I said, ‘Who cares? I’m in the middle of nowhere, who’s going to pay attention to that?'”
But as author Dave Zirin explained in Brazil’s Dance with the Devil, even when the ban was lifted, “a series of rules to diminish both women’s abilities and their accomplishments, such as requiring breast shields and shorter game times.”
Growing up, Formiga says her brothers didn’t like that she was playing soccer with other boys. “They got jealous, because I was way better than them and their classmates joked about it. Then they said things like ‘football isn’t for women,'” she told GOAL.com in 2019.
While sexism in women’s soccer – and sports in general – is not new, disparities between the men’s and women’s game have been especially large in Brazil. During her four-decade long career, Formiga has helped advocate for better treatment and resources for women’s soccer players in her country.
“There are more teams in the women’s league, more championships and more women who want to play,” she told the New York Times in 2019. “But the structures are too small. Girls need more chances, more training.”
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During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that will stream for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show kicks off on Saturday, July 24, and will stream every day of the Games (Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET).