Sports of The Times: In Brazil, Where Men’s Soccer Once Was King, the Women’s Game Rules

MANAUS, Brazil — Late Tuesday evening, as the Amazon temperature danced at 90 degrees with humidity in step, Janine van Wyk, a defender with South Africa’s women’s soccer team, paused just a second to take in the packed and throbbing Amazônia Arena, filled with 43,000 gloriously nuts fans.

She thought to herself, “This is amazing, to realize that all these people are supporting the women’s game,” she told me later. “This lets younger girls everywhere know our sport is growing.”

She flashed a quick smile even though her team had just been knocked out of the Olympic tournament.

The wheels of change are turning in what Brazilians freely describe as their macho society. Their men’s team collapsed in a heap in the World Cup two years ago and continues to play with a listlessness and diffidence in these Olympics. (Manauaras, the locals here, say the male players “are walking on high heels,” which means, roughly and after consultation with eminent linguists, “arrogant snots.”)

The women’s game — the Brazilian women in particular, but with applause left over for foreign teams as well — has captured the collective imagination here. As a colleague,…

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