Written by Robert Burgin
The concept that women could lead an entire continent forward in rugby league is gaining ground, with Jessica Maciel chalking up yet another momentous achievement in Brazil.
Brazil’s female squad has already become the first Latin American team of any gender to qualify for a World Cup – set to appear at the 2021 tournament in England.
And now 27-year-old Maciel has become the first fully-accredited coach to international standard in the world’s fifth-largest nation, trumping her male counterparts.
“It’s funny because when I was younger I had a lot of people telling me that rugby wasn’t for women,” says Maciel.
“Like many female players I’ve met, I didn’t start playing either of the rugby codes until I was 18, which is quite late in the development phase.
“But since then, I’ve never stopped participating or trying new aspects.”
Part of that progression has included transitioning from rugby union, which has an almost 130-year history in Brazil, to the sport of rugby league, which has only emerged over the past decade.
In December Maciel was one of approximately 80 female players who travelled from across the country to participate in the finals of Brazil’s national championship.
Despite being a resident of Belo Horizonte, one of Brazil’s largest cities with a metropolitan population of more than five million, she represented Sao Lourenco at the championships.
Considered another ‘local’ team in the state of Minas Gerais, Sao Lourenco is six hours’ drive from her home, with the trip to the finals venue at Sao Paulo another five hours by bus.
For her performances, Maciel was subsequently named in the train-on squad for Brasil’s World Cup program, but an achievement of equal proportions was notched when she returned home to complete her coaching qualifications.
Paul Grundy, a Level 3 coach from Australia and certified coach accreditor fluent in Portuguese, deemed Maciel the first to meet all the desired criteria.
“It has opened up many possibilities for me to develop the sport and help its growth and diffusion throughout Brasil,” says Maciel.
Not surprisingly Maciel is a big proponent of bringing girls into the sport at a younger age than she experienced and has continued to target the 10-12 age bracket for more rapid development.