Identity

The Soccer Coach Using The Pitch to Create Peace

Claudianny Drika is saving at-risk Brazilian youth through sport
September 11, 2018, 4:13pm
Photo courtesy of Claudianny Drika

“I started playing soccer when I was seven years old,” says soccer player and coach Claudianny Drika. “I didn’t have any toys, so my only fun was the ball.” Drika grew up as one of ten children in Sergipe, in northern Brazil, with no electricity and no stove. After the death of her grandmother, with whom Drika had been living, she briefly lived with her mother, then experienced short bouts of homelessness before moving to a favela in Rio de Janeiro with her aunt. It was a violence-ridden community, but Drika’s love of soccer helped her cope: She made friends, and ended up joining the local girl’s league, Favela Street Foundation.

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In 2014, when Drika was 19, her team was chosen to represent Rio in the Street Child United World Cup, where—for the first time ever—girls’ teams competed alongside boys’ teams. Then serving as team captain, Drika led her squad to victory, and six months later, she took over as the team coach. This past summer, she returned to the Street Child United World Cup as a coach, and led her team to victory once more. Her next goal? Expanding the program and getting more young people from Rio’s favelas involved.

Photo courtesy of Claudianny Drika

We asked now 21-year-old Drika about the challenges of coaching in the midst of violence, the prejudice still present in women’s soccer, and what it’s like to win the World Cup.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On the day-to-day realities of living and training in a favela
When I lived in Sergipe, I only saw guns and drugs on TV. Upon arriving in Rio, everything changed. I did not leave the house alone at first because I was scared. It took time to adapt and understand that I had a new reality. Living in that community meant having to live in fear, because a war could start at any time. Just last week we had to stop our training because of conflicts in Rio. More than 10 people were killed, we had our changing rooms destroyed, materials were stolen, and some of the girls were too afraid to get back into training.

"It’s good to know that my work is helping to change the world somehow, but I know that I still have a long way to go. And I will never stop."

On rising to the occasion
Favela Street Foundation was founded by Philip Velduis, who is Dutch, but he had to go back to his country. There was no one else to run it when he left, so I had to become a coach and took over the project. I’m so proud of myself. It’s good to know that my work is helping to change the world somehow, but I know that I still have a long way to go. And I will never stop.

On the importance of role models for women in sport
I wanted to be the best in the world, but it’s hard in Brazil because nobody appreciates women’s soccer. There’s still so much prejudice against women who play soccer. Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to be like Marta Vieira da Silva. She’s an amazing Brazilian soccer player who plays forward for Orlando Pride in the National Women's Soccer League and the Brazil national team. She inspires me because she’s the new face for female soccer players—and she fights for all of us.

On winning the 2018 Street Child United World Cup in Moscow
Russia was a different world for the girls [on my team], who all come from an environment with so much violence. They got to meet children from so many different countries, with so many different cultures and stories. It was an experience of a lifetime. And winning the Street Child World Cup was the reward for training so hard and dedicating themselves. I’m very proud of them!

On what’s next for her and her team
I want these girls to stay focused on achieving their goals and dreams. And I’ll do everything I can to help them succeed. As for Street Child United, I am looking to try and get more children involved. For myself, I intend to go to college to study Physical Education, and travel the world listening to stories and helping people.

25 Strong is a new series highlighting people who have broken barriers and changed culture in 2018. Created with Reebok.