Exclusive Interview Part 1: Pelé’s daughter Kely Nascimento-DeLuca helping to tackle gender inequality in football.

Kely Nascimento-DeLuca is Pelé’s eldest daughter, born in Santos, Brazil, but firmly ensconced as an adopted New Yorker for many years. Her success is very much her own and she chooses her battles and her words carefully.

An activist for promoting women’s rights and equality in ‘the beautiful game,’ Kely has worked as an editorial, portrait and social commentary photographer, as well as being creative director of multi-media and art projects.

As you’ll read in this fascinating interview, Kely shares Pelé’s love of football and his ethos of always wanting to do something positive, worthwhile and of value.

Intelligent, fiercely ambitious and nobody’s fool, you know that once she sets her mind to something, it gets done.

The Offside Rule were delighted to speak with her exclusively about current and future projects…

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Firstly, please tell me some more about your ‘Warrior Women of Football project’ and what you hope to achieve in the short and longer term…

‘WWoF’ is comprised of a documentary and a social impact project that affects substantive change by raising money to support grassroots organisations currently using football as a vehicle to tackle gender inequality.

Along with all of this will be a web platform where women athletes all over the world can communicate, tell us their stories and find resources that can provide them with the many different kinds of support needed to survive and thrive as a female athlete.

What demographic are you aiming at?

All people who are currently breathing and care about equality and fairness (and even some who might not yet know they care). This is an incredible time to affect widespread awareness, empowerment and actual change! With the internet we have access to each other that we have never had before.

For so many years there have been so many incredible people in isolated corners of the world, fighting to give women the same rights to thrive in football and in life as men have.

The right to be able to make a career out of playing the game they love. It is time to use the resources available to us to bring these people out of those corners and together to create a movement.

And what were the reasons behind you starting it in the first place?

It’s funny because only recently, since I started going out into the world with this project, have people begun to ask me this. I had never thought about it. My first reaction is “doesn’t EVERYONE want to do something like this?” Someone once gave me some very simple and seemingly obvious advice that I still go back to anytime I am unsure of my next steps: “find what you are good at and what you love, and use it to do something about the things that are important to you.”

I guess that is what I always look to do. Also, I have four children, and I want to be a positive force in creating the world I want them to grow up in. I want them to see me fighting for what we believe. If I can add four more people to this world who think things like equality are worth fighting for, then I’ve earned my existential keep.

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I understand that you are producing a documentary series to accompany the project and also a full-length documentary on the ‘Sereias da Vila,’ the Santos women’s section.    

My role in the film and series will be as director. The full-length documentary will still be told through the lens of Brazil as the emotional birthplace of football and its beautiful game, but the scope of the stories we will tell has broadened. In the last year or so I have met and spoken to so many women and men from so many different countries whose stories beg to be told or at the very least touched upon.

Our greatest challenge will be to somehow do justice to all of the stories we have been entrusted with. The series is something we would love to do as a continuation of the project. We will use our web platform, where women, young and old, from around the globe will have been sharing their stories, and then identify certain stories and go and tell them. This could be via a web platform or longer broadcast format or both. But the film comes first.

Have any of the stories you’ve come across so far surprised, inspired or even disappointed you? 

I am constantly shocked by almost everything I learn, every day. Even after two years of research I am in a constant state of disbelief and awe. On different days, different injustices and acts of heroism get to me, but the one fundamental truth is that people generally want those they love to be happy and fulfilled and to be able to do what they love.

So, just creating an industry in which women can actually succeed; get paid enough to survive and even thrive by playing football, will go a long way on assuaging the fears of many parents, families and communities. 80% of the battle would be won if a family could know a girl can be a football player and not starve! When we see that globally, women football players are treated with the modicum of the respect they deserve, many of the cultural barriers will begin to disappear.

If you thought your girl could have anything even in the vicinity of Neymar’s career (even when he was 19, forget now) you would be almost 100% less likely to have an issue with her lifestyle choice, regardless of your ideology or preconceptions about women in sports.

Here in the UK, women’s football is very much on the rise, both in terms of the professionalism within the game, and also standard of play, participation and from a supporting perspective. How well advanced is the game in NYC, where you live, and also Brazil, a country you know well?

The incredible thing about football is that the status of the equality of women in football, in every country around the world, directly reflects the status of women’s equality in general, in that country. Different countries are currently at different stages in the evolution of women’s equality and if we compare their particular stage to the state of the sport it is eerily spot on!

In the US the Women’s National Team out medal the men’s, they have a greater audience and in 2015 generated much greater revenue for the federation, yet they are paid less for WINNING a World Cup than the men are paid for QUALIFYING for one! They also earn less than one 10th of a male player’s salary!

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In Brazil, women athletes are sexualised and objectified. In 2015 the CBF (Confederacao Brasileira de Futebol) Brazilian football federation appointed a male physical therapist by the name of Marco Aurelio Cunha to promote the women’s game.

This is what he said in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail during the 2015 Women’s World Cup: “Now the women are getting more beautiful, putting on makeup, they go in the field in an elegant manner. Now the shorts are a bit shorter, the hairstyles are more done up. It’s not a woman dressed as a man.”

The Nigerian Women’s National Football Team, the Super Falcons, won Africa’s international championship EIGHT times and have been considered a superpower of women’s soccer in the African continent for over 25 years. Yet when the Super Falcons failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Seyi Akinwunmi, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) vice-president, blamed it on ‘lesbianism.’ The team subsequently lost all of their sponsors.

I could go on and on and on and on…

I can take this analogy a step further by pointing out that the state of the equality of women in any given country is a mirror to that country’s public, social and economic health. Football is just the canary in the coal mine.

Isn’t it about time the women’s game was put on an equal footing as the men’s? 

Honey, It’s been time!!

What hurdles have you personally had to overcome? 

If I use even the slightest bit of perspective to answer this question, I can’t say that I have had to overcome hurdles in any significant way. With this particular project I got the odd and expected dismissive responses to my inquiries when I first began to do research, but it took no time to locate the path towards the people who I needed to get to.

There are so many more people than I had imagined, both men and women, who feel as strongly as I do about this, many of whom are not even directly involved in the sport! At the inception of this adventure I fully expected an uphill battle and a lukewarm response, but as it turns out the timing is pretty magical for a project that speaks to women rights! Who knew?

Interview by Jason Pettigrove (@jasonpettigrove)

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