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Soccer Girls: Student Helps Brazil’s Female Athletes Play

Emilia Sens (C

Emilia Sens (C'15), left, with former U.S. soccer player turned ESPN analyst Julie Foudy, says Soccer Girls helps Brazilian girls "to realize their potential as young women and learn that they don’t need anyone else to motivate them, because motivation can come from within.”

July 11, 2014 – As Brazilians mourn their loss in the World Cup, a Georgetown student is helping make it easier for girls to play soccer in that country, which is not known for valuing female athletes.

Emilia Sens, a Portuguese and government major in Georgetown College who played on the Hoyas soccer team for two years, was in Rio de Janeiro during the World Cup and volunteered with Soccer Girls, a program to help female soccer players in the country’s favelas.

“The program allows girls to play competitive soccer and learn a little bit of English at the end,” says Sens, who notes that the Brazilian male-dominated culture frowns upon female soccer players. “It really allows them to realize their potential as young women and learn that they don’t need anyone else to motivate them, because motivation can come from within.”

Serious Soccer

The Georgetown student got involved with the program after attending a networking event for students who are studying abroad. Sens studied at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro for the 2013-14 academic year.

The event host, alumnus Ky Adderley (C’98, G’01), mentioned to Sens that his wife, Shanna, a former college soccer player, had trouble finding competitive teams for women in Brazil.

Sens got in touch with Shanna Adderley, who invited her to the training that takes place for girls of all ages every Saturday.

“I immediately identified clearly with what he was saying because I’d already been in Brazil for a little while and I found it very, very hard to find any competitive games for myself as a young woman,” says Sens, who serves as a role model and interpreter for Soccer Girls. “And then I was talking with her and she told me about this idea she had to bring her program, which is pretty serious soccer for girls, to a favela that is in a big tourist area in Rio.”

Male-Dominated Culture

The training was not without problems.

“It’s been very hard to find space and time and also gain support from the community,” Sens explains. “Once we were in a field and a woman came – a woman, actually, which I think was the ironic part – and started screaming at us that we were destroying the field for her sons to come play on. She called the police in the favela to come and clear the field and we had no place to play.”

She said the girls and young women, who ranged in age from 11 to 20, were angry that someone in their own community didn’t believe they should have the right to play soccer.

“It’s a very male-dominated culture,” notes Sens, who began playing soccer in kindergarten. “In Portuguese they call it machismo. And it’s not just in sports – it’s in the household and the workplace. In the upper middle class and middle class community, it’s really looked down on for girls to play soccer. Soccer is considered a sport for boys and young men in the favelas."

Attention Soccer Lovers

Soccer Girls is getting some serious media attention in the States.

Sens ran into Julie Foudy, a ex-U.S. soccer player turned ESPN reporter and analyst, on a beach in Rio. The meeting led to a feature on ABC World News that also will be on ESPN online.

Recently returned from Brazil, Sens says she hopes to work with the program after graduation.

“I want to do something with Brazil and something with development and the favela communities,” Sens explains. “With a little bit of help and a little bit of funding they could go a long way.”

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