Profile 360° → Sara Gama, A Radical Reset For Italian Soccer

Italian soccer has had its fair share of icons — and prejudices. With the Women's World Cup underway, it's time to rewrite the rules of the beautiful game for the beautiful country.

Sara Gama
Sara Gama
Irene Caselli

Black and female, straight-talking and proudly Italian: Sara Gama, the captain of Italy's women soccer team, has become a role model for what the bel paese could become in the 21st century. There's even a Barbie doll dedicated to her. Still, Gama may represent a threat for some, with her personal story and frank words undermining some of the rhetoric coming from the anti-immigrant League party that's become the top political force in Italy after the recent European elections.

As the Women's World Cup gets underway in France, Gama is fighting for more than the international title: She wants everyone to give women as much credit as men. "One day we'll talk about soccer and that's it, without defining the gender," she says. As for being a multiethnic captain for the national team of the national sport in Italy, Gama is clear: "It shows the face of a globalized society. We are mixed, and mixing improves us. The more you see it, the more you get used to it."


Place of Birth: Trieste, Italy

Date of Birth: March 27, 1989

Education: She has a degree in foreign languages from the University of Udine, where she studied English and Spanish. She also learned French in Paris, where she obtained the Diploma in Advanced French Language (DALF).

Titles: She won the European title with the Under-19 team in 2008. As a captain for the newly-created Juventus women's team, she won two league championships (2018, 2019) and a Coppa Italia (2019).

ICONIC In 2018, Mattel dedicated a Barbie doll to Gama as a part of the Sheroes series — she was the only Italian to be recognized by the international toy brand. "I didn't think I had any affinity with dolls, but then I got it. The doll says you can do whatever you want," Gama told Italian daily La Stampa. Her trademark free afro hairstyle has also led to a national shampoo commercial.

EARLY DAYS Gama started playing soccer when she was seven years old, in the street with friends. At the time she could only play with boys, because there were no other girls, and there was no female team. "Children by nature don't discriminate," says Gama. "It's parents who put stereotypes in their minds." At 12, she had to travel an hour to train in an all-girls team. Her father returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo after studying engineering in Italy. It was her mother and grandfather who supported her in her passion, though there were no big soccer fans at home: "I think it was instinctive, it was written in my stars."

MAKING IT BIG In 2008, Gama was not supposed to play in the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship because of a series of injuries, and was resigned to relaxing during the summer after her final school exams. But she was called in last-minute and handed the captain's arm band. And she made the difference, as Italy won and she was named Golden Player.


Gama holds a seat on the Federal Board of Italy's Soccer Association FIGC and is the president of the federal commission for the development of women's soccer in Italy. Women are considered amateur and cannot sign professional contracts in Italy, meaning they cannot earn more than 30,000 euros a year from their clubs.

Women are officially part of the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti (LND), the country's amateur soccer association. In 2015, Felice Belloli, then LND president, said: "That's enough, we can't always talk about giving money to this bunch of lesbians." (He was sacked shortly after.) "I was furious', said Gama recalling the moment she found out about Belolli's remark.

"But we are on the right path. Now we train as professionals," she says, pointing out that many important clubs, such as Juventus, are investing in women's soccer.

IF ONLY BALOTELLI HAD IT LIKE THIS ... Women may not receive the credit they deserve, but women's soccer does have some advantages over Italian male soccer. African men's soccer players — even those born in Italy — have been at the receiving end of racist chants for years. Take the situation for standout striker Mario Balotelli, who was born to Ghanaian parents and then taken in by a foster family in northern Italy, adopting their last name. Last year, during a friendly against Saudi Arabia in which Balotelli scored, fans unfurled a banner that read "My captain has Italian blood" — after suggestions that "SuperMario" may receive the arm band. Most recently, there were racist chants against Juventus teenaged standout Moise Kean.

So far, Gama and other black female players have not received the kind of racist insults her male colleagues are sadly accustomed to. "We manage to shield ourselves. The fact remains that if our society is intolerant and instigates hatred, this attitude is also reflected in the stadiums."

WHAT'S NEXT At 30, Gama has no intention of letting go of soccer. She says she cannot imagine herself as a coach, but she wants to continue working from behind the scenes to make sport more equal. "There is no female leadership," she says. She hopes that more girls can join the sport, starting from an early age. "I would tell mothers: "Let your daughters play soccer", the best can develop important careers. No sport is "male-only": these are clichés that get shattered when you see the athletes in action."


Marta, Brazil

At 33, Marta Vieira da Silva, best know as Marta, is the only soccer player in the world — either male or female — to have been named Player of the Year six times. She is also the most prolific scorer in Women's World Cup history. Her inspiring story has turned her into a role model and a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

Ada Hegerberg, Norway

Awarded the inaugural Women's Ballon d'Or in 2018, Ada Hegerberg had to deal with a presenter who asked her to twerk on stage when she was handed the prize. She is now sitting out the World Cup because she has pledged not to play for Norway until female players are respected as much as men. In 2017, Norway signed a historic equal pay agreement between men and women players, but Hegerberg stands by her decision not to play, saying the problem is not about money. "It's impossible to be in football and not fight for equality," she said.

Macarena Sánchez, Argentina

Earlier this year, Macarena Sánchez took legal action against her former club team and the Argentine soccer federation to be recognized as a professional player. Her fight resulted in Argentina's soccer federation announcing that its women's league would be granted professional status.

Alex Morgan, U.S.A.

Olympic gold medalist, Women's World Cup winner, and one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of 2019, the co-captain of the U.S. national team has long fought for pay parity with her teammates. Players from the women's national team filed a lawsuit against the country's Soccer Federation over equal treatment and pay on March 8, saying they earn just 38% of what their male counterparts earn, even though they are more successful.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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