Melissa Plaza
Champion For Peace, International Football Player, Double French Champion

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06/06/2019 par Melissa Plaza

“The World Cup 2019 may be a turning point”


“On Friday 7 June, football will focus on women. On that day, the sport invented by men for men will put women on centre stage, who will take up their position with pride. Deservedly so. The World Cup 2019 promises to be the most publicized competition since the creation of the event, twenty-eight years ago in China. In France, the TF1 television group will broadcast the twenty-five best matches live, including all of the French team’s matches. Its facilities are comparable to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The girls will be treated like boys on Friday 7 June and throughout the competition. Unthinkable a few years back.

A “one-off” without a future, or a definitive breakthrough in women’s football? My optimistic nature drives me to believe that this is a real evolution. But at the same time, my experience makes me cautious. In sport in general, and football in particular, stereotypes die hard. Of course, anti-sexist discourses heard here and there in the sports movement may lead us to believe in a real change in mentalities. Major international sports institutions, including FIFA and the IOC, are now adopting parity rules for both governance and participation in competitions. But words and documents often turn out to be misleading.

During my sport psychology studies, which I did in parallel to my career as a professional football player, I studied the role of gender stereotypes in players’ sporting behaviour. This research helped me understand that anti-sexist speeches were not enough to profoundly change beliefs. Admittedly, attitudes have evolved somewhat in recent years, but they have also become more insidious and less discernible. They’ve been varnished over. It makes sexism in sport even more difficult to fight.

I started football as a child. At that time, pushing open the door of a club was not easy. Being accepted was even less so. I was almost always the only female player amongst the boys. The idea of a little girl being keen on football was not to everyone’s taste. And not many girls dared to fight clichés. Fewer still won a place on the pitch. We perturbed people. Our presence was incongruous.

Today, with my playing career behind me, I feel that I have always fought for the place of girls, and then women, in sport. By being rebellious and refusing the dictates of society as a child, I was militant. I was not aware of it, but the desire was there. Then I waited to leave the game in 2016 before professing myself a feminist. I felt freer to express it. Freer too, to take up the fight to push back the lines.

My goal has always been the same: gender equity for access to sport. My commitment to Peace and Sport, as a “Champion for Peace”, is part of this resolve. So is my work as a conference speaker and my coaching activity. The release of my book in early May “Not for girls?” (Pas pour les filles ?) is the last milestone.

On Friday, 7th June I will experience intense emotion at the opening of the 2019 World Cup in France. This competition could be a turning point. Certainly for the French team, for whom some of my former teammates may have the chance to win the trophy after years of indifference and sacrifice. But also for all the young boys and girls who will follow their progress, day after day, with a lot of yearning and great pride. “

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