Lea Campos, the first referee

Meet Lea Campos, one of the characters from the Offside Museum

Lea Campos at 6 months old in the city of Abaeté, Minas Gerais. (1946) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum


Born in 1944, in Abaeté, in the West of the State of Minas Gerais, Lea is the eldest daughter of a family of four children of Jahy Fornero de Campos and Isabel de Campos Alvares. She was also the eldest daughter of a family of four siblings: Francisco Henrique, Alysson, José Cristiano and Cybelle.

Lea at the age of 5. (1951) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

When the Brazilian national team lost the World Cup in 1950, in the Maracanã stadium (RJ), Lea was already attracting envy and intrigue playing with a ball of socks made by her father, Jahy in the small city of Buenópolis, where she lived during her childhood.

Lea Campos and her family during the graduation of her brother Francisco. (The 60's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

To distract herself from play that was then considered inappropriate, Lea went to singing, poetry and drama competitions from the age of eight. Because of her precocious public speaking skills, she was chosen to speak in public during a reception for Juscelino Kubitschek, then Governor of the State of Minas Gerais.

“I played during breaks at school, and the principal implied that I couldn’t, because I was playing with the boys. At the time there was that thing: girls over there, boys over here”, said Lea Campos, during an interview with the Football Museum in 2015.

JK, by then president of Brazil, gives a scholarship to Lea, who joined Imaculada Conceição College in the mineira city of Montes Claros. When adolescence arrived, and at 1.78m tall, her sporting start came in volleyball, representing different teams such as Sparta Volley Club, in Belo Horizonte.

Lea Campos with the trophy of Queen of the Amateur Football of Belo Horizonte. (The 60's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum


Lea Campos' physical condition and beauty ended up attracting the interest of the sporting press and advertising companies during the 1960s. During her youth, she participated in dozens of "Queen" competitions, winning the majority of them.

Lea as the Carnival Queen next to the Royal Court., Archive Lea Campos, 1966, From the collection of: The Football Museum
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Lea Campos as the Carnival Queen at the Av. Afonso Pena stage., Archive Lea Campos, 1966, From the collection of: The Football Museum
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Lea being awarded Queen of the Brazilian Army., Archive Lea Campos, 1969, From the collection of: The Football Museum
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Headline of the newspaper Jornal do Brasil about Lea's desire to become a football referee. (1967) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

Queen of Carnaval in Belo Horizonte, Queen of the First Regiment of Army Infantry, Queen of the Army, Queen of Cruzeiro, Queen of Students, Miss Photogenic, Queen of Combat Veterans are a few examples of her first titles.

At this time the title Queen of Amateur Football also came, won after representing a well-known amateur football team as godmother, Juventus Football Club.

Beauty contests were mostly attended by the public from different regions of Belo Horizonte, with voting from the readers of the newspaper, which contained a Queen voting coupon.

Lea Campos during Israel Pinheiro's political campaign for the Minas Gerais Government. (1965) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

Political Campaigns

As the years went by, Lea Campos became a person who enjoyed a certain popularity in Belo Horizonte, a detail that quickly attracted the attention not just of the sports world, but also the political classes. In the presidential election of 1960, Lea campaigned for the ex-minister of War, Martial Henrique Baptista Duffles T. Lott, a candidate for the PTB/PSD coalition and later for Israel Pinheiro, for state governor.

This new position meant that she traveled around many locations in the Belo Horizonte region, expanding her network of friends and contacts even more - people who would be invaluable in the near future.

Lea Campos with his her aunt, Elisa, and his her brother, Alysson, after her election as the Queen of Cruzeiro Esporte Clube. (The 60's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

The Cruzeiro

A Cruzeiro supporter like her mother, Lea Campos went to the mineira fox's games avidly, and founded, together with other supporters, T.O.C.A: the Academic Cruzeiro Organised Supporters Group. Supporters of the blue and whites helped to raise funds that were invested in materials for blue and white party on the terraces of the Mineirão, in Belo Horizonte.

The good relationship between the club and Lea brought her, in the 1960s, the voluntary position of public relations. She travelled with the playing staff and organised official information for reporters who covered the sporting events.

Lea Campos in a broadcast of "Rádio Nacional". (The 60's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

Sports Journalism

Lea Campos' first choice of professional career was journalism. She studied and worked in Brasília, where her brother lived, at the time that she began to write and memorise themes related to sports, mainly the names of the players in clubs in the Brazilian Championship of Football.

Lea narrating a football match on Rádio Mulher. (The 60's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

Returning to Belo Horizonte, she worked for Rádio Jornal and took the opportunity to become part of the broadcaster's sports team, becoming one of the country's first field reporters. The player Piazza was the first interviewee during his debut on the pitch at the Mineirão. In the mid-1970s, she was part of the team at Rádio Mulher, which then had a team exclusively of women. Next to Zuleide Ranieri, Jurema Yara, Germana Garilli and Claudete Troiano, Lea became even more involved in sports journalism and commentated on the refereeing of male games transmitted on the radio.

Headline of the newspaper Jornal do Brasil about Lea's desire to become a football referee. (1967) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum


"Any profession is risky, and I don't see any reason to give up on my ideal one" Lea Campos, Jornal do Brasil, 14th July 1967.

Despite her career as a model and journalist in the 1960s, Lea Campos went to courses on refereeing for boxing and football. Something unimaginable for women at the time.

The press impact. (1967) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

On one occasion, when heavily criticising a referee during a football march, Lea was surprised by the referee's association and the public, who said that it was easy to criticize when you're not on the pitch. For someone as competitive and stubborn as she was, the challenge was set: she would become a football referee.

News published by the newspaper A Luta Democrática. (1967) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

Soon after, she was enrolled on the refereeing course at the Mineira Federation of Football where she initially had the company of Cesarina Rodrigues. During the eight month course, she trained in the mornings with soldiers from the police battalion to be in perfect physical condition on the day of the entrance exam.

Cartoon by Henfil of Lea., Archive Lea Campos, The 70's, From the collection of: The Football Museum
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The mineira's efforts attracted the attention of the press, but it also attracted the attention of women who voluntarily collected signatures in an attempt to stop her reaching her objective.

Cartoon by Edgard of Lea., Archive Lea Campos, The 70's, From the collection of: The Football Museum
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Cartoon by Henfil of Lea., Archive Lea Campos, The 70's, From the collection of: The Football Museum
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Lea Campos during a match held at the Sport Journalist Association of Minas Gerais. (The 70's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

She will not referee!
Lea's practical exam, also known as the field test, was a match between journalists and referees, some of them assessors of her final grade, during the Third National Meeting of Physical Education Teachers. Despite her excellent grades and unanimous approval, the Mineira Federation of Football did not authorise her referee's license.
The decision prevented her from refereeing games in the first or second division. But Lea soon made the news in the sporting press, pressuring the federation. The federation then consulted the Brazilian Confederation of Sports (CBD- now the CBF).

Lions Club Trophy offered to Lea Campos. (The 70's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

The highest body of Braziian football requested a variety of medical exams from Lea Campos, which were sometimes ignored, obliging her to redo them in locations approved by the federation.
When she was with the then president of the CBD, João Havelange, he admitted that the results were not sufficent, and alleged that the female bone structure was inferior to male, and for this reason would not authorise Lea's refereeing license.
On her own initiative, Lea underwent a series of exams, this time with doctors renowned all over the country, which certified that the female bone structure was equal to male bone structure.

Lea Campos with director board of Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense, in Porto Alegre. (1970) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

In the end, Havelange appealed to article 54 of decree 3,199 of 1941, which prohibited Brazilian women from participating in sports which were "Inappropriate for their nature". However, Lea argued to the authorities that the decree did not provide legal impediment to women refereeing football matches.
Unconvinced, Havelange still used menstruation as a female attribute that would prevent women from entering onto the pitch and ended the meeting saying that while he was in charge of the organisation, no woman would referee a game.

News from the period in which Lea Campos' referee certificate was released. (1971) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

The President

After being invited, in 1971, to referee the Second World Championship of Women's Football in Mexico, Lea started a campaign to regain her her official referee's license. For four years she gathered signatures, gae interviews, studied legislation and used her network of contacts.

Lea's certificate from the School of Referees. (1972) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

Under the military regime, Lea Campos took advantage of the visit of then president and army general, Emilio Garrastazu Médici, to Belo Hoizonte, and managed to do what had seemed impossible: a short interview with the highest authority in the country.

Among everything that the mineira had managed to that point, the interview with the president seemed to her the final test to pass to become what she had prepared to be for years: a referee. With trembling body and memorised phrases on the tip of her tongue, Lea shared the problem that prevented her from becoming a referee in Brazil with the acting president.

Lea Campos as a football match referee. (The 70's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

Médici handed Lea a business card and scheduled a meeting for the following week, in Brasília. After a restless week, the mineira received a signed letter from the leader of the nation, ordering the CBD to grant a referee's license to Asalea de Campos Micheli.

News about the release of Lea Campos' referee certificate. (1971) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

The reporter Paulo Roverto, of Rádio Itatiaia of Belo Horizonte, leaked the news to the sporting press before Lea even had the chance to share the news with her family. The Mineira Federation of Football finally fell into line with Lea Campos and handed her the license that conferred the official referee's document for Brazil upon her, and soon after, on the world.

Lea Campos with the mexican player María Eugenia 'La Peque' Rubio. (1971) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

From Brazil to the world

With her license in hand, Lea embarked for Mexico a few days later, where she would referee the Second World Cup of Women's Football, with six teams of women officially representing their national teams. Lea stated that she refereed the the match between Italy and Mexico to the Jornal do Brasil on 16th April 1972. However, due to the altitude, she was not able to referee the match between England and Italy.

News about Lea Campos' performance. (1971) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

She repeated this in the capital of Ceará, filling the President Vargas Stadium for the match between Ferroviário and Fortaleza. Lea sent letters to the states offering herself to a number of states such as Bahia, Sergipe, Piauí and Rio Grande do Sul and smaller cities in the countryside of Minas Gerais and São Paulo.

Lea Campos during her last match held in USA. (The 90's) by Archive Lea CamposThe Football Museum

O acidente

At the beginning of the 1970s, she traveled to different countries in Latin America and afterwards Europe, with trips to Portgual, France, Spain and the Netherlands.

The accident At only 29, Lea Campos had her daring and meteoric rise as a football referee interrupted by a serious road accident. On the 28th of February 1974, the bus that she was travelling on to São Paulo hit a lorry carrying construction materials at night on the Fernão Dias Highway, close to the city of Três Corações, Minas Gerais. Finding herself on the front seat, next to the driver, Lea found both her legs broken and shredded by shrapnel from the material transported by the lorry in front. Lea spent years in negotiations with the coach company Cometa (then owned by João Havelange) and with the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) in order to get financial aid to pay for her medical treatment. After ending her career as a referee early, Lea Campos continued to campaign for women's football, organising the promotion of women in the sport in the years that preceeded the regulation of the sport. The Lea Campos Cup, in Campinas in the 1970s and at the Mineirão in 1983, were examples of this initiative. United States Lea Campos married the Colombian sports journalist Luis Medina and moved to the United States in 1993, the country she lives in to this day. She sometimes participated in sporting events there, such as the announcement of the selection of the Brazil women's national team for the World Cup, held there in 1999.

Credits: Story

Governor | João Doria
Secretary of Culture and Creative Economy of the State of São Paulo
Secretary | Sérgio Sá Leitão
Assistant Secretary | Claudia Pedrozo
Coordinator of the Museum Heritage Preservation Unit | Antonio Lessa

Culture, Education and Sport - social organization of culture
Administrative Council
President | Carlos Antonio Luque
Vice President | Clara of Asunción Azevedo
Executive Director | Eric Klug
Administrative and Financial Director | Victoria Boldrin
Director of Content | Daniela Alfonsi

Google Initiative and Museum of Football
Curator Daniela Alfonsi and Camila Aderaldo - Football Museum
Research Assistant Ligia Dona - Football Museum

Virtual exhibition Michael Jackson
Research Aira Bonfim and Cassimano
Text Aira Bonfim and Daniela Alfonsi

Virtual exhibition Lea Campos
Research Aira Bonfim and Cassimano
Text Aira Bonfim and Daniela Alfonsi

Virtual Exhibition Museum of Impediment
Research Aira Bonfim, Ligia Dona and Camila Aderaldo
Text Aira Bonfim and Daniela Alfonsi


CAMPOS, A. Entrevista Léa Campos. Entrevistadora: Silvana Goellner. Produção: Museu do Futebol. São Paulo: Museu do Futebol, 2015, 107 min., som, color.

MONTEIRO, Igor Chagas et al. Mulheres de preto: trajetórias na arbitragem do futebol profissional. 2016.

MEDINA, Luiz Eduardo. Las Reglas Pueden Ser Rotas - Biografia de Léa Campos. New York Celebrities Publishing Corporation, 2001.
Hemeroteca Nacional Digital do México
Biblioteca Nacional Digital do Brasil

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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