Slowly but surely, women's soccer is catching on not just in America, but all around the world. Several of the sport's biggest stars have strong name recognition, and there's some speculation that women's soccer is now the most popular female sport in the world.

Nevertheless, they continue to fight against demeaning ideas and comments about

The most recent instance: Brazilian soccer official Marco Aurelio Cunha making his observations on why women's soccer is finally catching on in his home country.

"Now the women are getting more beautiful, putting on make-up. They go in the field in an elegant manner," Cunha told The Globe And Mail in a phone interview. "Women's football used to copy men's football. Even the jersey model, it was more masculine. We used to dress the girls as boys. So the team lacked a spirit of elegance, femininity.

"Now the shorts are a bit shorter, the hair styles are more done up. It’s not a woman dressed as a man."

By many measures, this is chauvinistic in the level of Sepp Blatter, who years ago suggested that women wear shorter shorts to get the attention of male fans.

But Cunha's stance isn't nearly so pig-headed as Blatter's. Poorly phrased, sure. But he also laments the lack of support Brazil's women's team has enjoyed over the years -- particularly its star player, Marta, who is easily one of the best players of her generation.

"Football is a religion here, but this country has not been there for Marta: She'd never be recognized as one of the best players in the world if she had stayed in Brazil," Cunha says. "Who's the most awarded football player in the world? It's a woman -- but that answer is a bit awkward in Brazil."

The prevailing challenge in Brazil is that soccer is seen as a men's game. Despite having one of the best women's teams in the world, Brazil does not encourage young girls to play soccer. Soccer scholarships to colleges do not exist, and the country does not fund a junior national program.

Cunha obviously sounds like he wants that to change. Although the reasons are problematic, the growing support is nonetheless welcome by athletes who have traditionally been ignored.

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