Pia Sundhage. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT
Swedish football coach Pia Sundhage chats to the The Local's Natalia Brzezinski about being openly gay in the sports community, and how Swedish women can learn from American women when it comes to sports.
Pia Sundhage, 54, says she is constantly fighting to be taken seriously as a woman.
When asked in an interview if she thought she was capable of coaching a men's football team, she responded with a question.
"Do you think it works to have a female chancellor in Germany? Angela Merkel rules a whole bloody country. Of course it works."
It's this kind of attitude that took Sundhage to the top, both as a player, and more recently as a coach.
She won two gold medals in the past two Olympic Games as the head coach of the US women's team, and she now coaches the Swedish women's team.
Chatting with The Local, the Swede brushes off the relevance of her private life to her work.
"If I’m gay is of no interest because I’m a coach and my private life doesn’t matter," she says.
"If people ask me about it, I answer 'Yes I’m gay' and that’s how it is. I’ve never come across any trouble for it as a coach in the United States or anywhere. It was tough when I was twenty-years-old in Sweden, but even then I didn’t care. This is me. Take it or leave it."
In an extensive interview, published in full here
, Sundhage reflects on one of the toughest challenges as a woman in sport.
"One thing that is typical for me as a woman in men's sports is that I have to prove that I’m good all the time," she laments.
"After 22 years on the national team and as a coach, I still have to prove to people that I know leadership and I know soccer. When a man is made a coach for a women’s team, no one questions his knowledge. But if I was made head coach of a men's team now despite the fact that I’ve coached an Olympic gold medal team, I would still need to prove myself on the first day, first week and first month all the time."
But in the US, she adds, the players on the professional women's side have already proven themselves - a lesson to be learnt by the Sweden team.
"The professional players have a great salary and travel well. I always tell them, 'You’re spoiled.' They say, 'Yes that’s right, but if we asked for less and stopped fighting we would go backwards'. We need to remember this in Sweden, too," she explains.
"In Sweden, if you’re not on your toes you will go backwards. We need to keep fighting as women and also make sure men are involved too."