Copa 71

Copa 71

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The number one attendance record holder of any women’s sporting event ever was a battle fought on the field and off, which you possibly haven’t heard about. This is Copa 71, the inaugural, albeit unofficial, World Cup for women in soccer. “Copa 71” offers insights from players through interviews as well as archival footage and still photos that explore not only the general story behind how the tournament came into existence but also individual women’s relationships with the game.

“Copa 71,” includes player interviews and historic film and photographic material that does more than tell how this competition developed; it tells how every woman related to football. Like many others, soccer was considered a male game when these girls were growing up. Silvia Zaragoza from Mexico said that she played in secret because her father could beat her if he found out about it since “girls didn’t act like boys.” Elena Schiavo of Italy recollects a time when she had to fight a group of boys who refused her permission to play and Carol Wilson was against having a life of “marriage, kids and cooking,” so instead she joined Air Force saying she thought: “I bet if I join the Air Force, I’ll be able to play football there.”

This went along with an institutional ban enforced by an international social disbarment too. In 1921 The Football Association (FA) in England prohibited women from using its official member grounds (which were the cheapest available). This ban continued until 1970.

Women’s teams started forming during this decade despite societal norms among other numerous social movements of the sixties. Elvira Aracén from Mexico reflects on whether or not it was political: “Maybe it was some kind of political statement.” As they created these teams there were instances where players talk about men attending their games making fun of them or lusting after them at all times. Instead however businessmen viewed a Women’s World Cup as having the potential to be held in Mexico during 1971 despite FIFA’s several attempts and threats to stop it, following a localized women’s tournament in Italy the previous year.

Women playing soccer were not only treated with social disgrace but their act was seen as pathological for it was thought that the game was harmful to women’s breasts, wombs and health generally. Nonetheless Copa 71 proudly continued even though it was considered filthy, an amoral act or disrespect. The event had elements of poetic justice: If Mexico allowed them into real stadiums Stanley Rous, FIFA president threatened to ban them from future cups; as such, Copa 71 moved to the Palisco and Azteca, two of its largest arenas. They employed extreme advertising strategies just to fill up all 110000 seats.

In “Copa 71,” women are also given an opportunity to talk about their experiences despite the fact that it is a film on the history and challenges of the sport. The movie gives a complete story from various perspectives, including some that are funny in retrospect like bus breakdowns while others tell us more about what was really going on at the time, such as Susan’s stand against scams. For instance, we see her at different times catching moments of pride and rivalry through them.

However, throughout the documentary there is one thing you will always notice: sisterhood. They all had one thing in common; they loved football. The Copa 71 is a film that inspires, thrills and exhilarates as it is a motion picture that moves fast which provides focus to this earth-shaking event that did little to turn around norms but began something new.

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