The Homeless World Cup...
It's nice to see football making a difference...
The bountiful game
Mark Tran reports on a project that addresses the issues of homelessness and poverty through football
Thursday May 26, 2005
The World Cup is coming to Edinburgh this summer.
Well not quite, but a few days after the G8 group of leading industrialised countries hold their Gleneagles summit, Edinburgh will be staging the Homeless World Cup, an event scheduled to bring together 32 teams of homeless people from far and wide, including China, Australia, Peru and Uruguay.
Now in its third year, the Homeless World Cup is the brainchild of Mel Young, co-founder of the Big Issue in Scotland, and Harald Schmied from Austria, who hit on the idea of football as a way of connecting homeless people around the world and reintegrating them into society.
Mr Young says the tournament has had an amazingly positive effect. Research by his streetsoccer organisation into the 204 players who took part in last year's event found that 78 players (38%) had found regular work, 95 (46%) had improved their housing situation and 70 (34%) had taken up some form of education.
"It seems to totally reinvigorate people. It makes them believe they have something to offer and they have a different mindset afterwards," he told Guardian Unlimited.
The first tournament was held in Austria in 2003 with 18 teams. Last year, 26 teams attended the event in Sweden. This year, the tournament was moved from New York because US travel restrictions imposed since the attacks of September 11 2001.
The relocation to Britain has brought funding problems. The organisers had lined up sponsorship from US companies with a tradition of philanthropy, who were willing to finance an event that meshed well with their notion of corporate social responsibility.
The Edinburgh event, which will take place from July 20-24, is sponsored by the UN, European football's governing body Uefa, and Nike, the sports shoe giant. UK companies have been less generous and Mr Young still needs to raise £100,000 to fly in teams from Latin America and Africa.
One of the African teams is from Burundi, represented by Hope, a mixed team of boys and girls. Burundi has gone through a decade of bloodshed and civil war and one main aim of the event was to bring people together again.
Jean Marie Bizimna, president of the Burundian Association for Sports and Culutre, said: "One main goal is to work with street children and use sport as a tool against the vicious circle of poverty - unemployment, delinquency and youth criminality."
Mr Young says it costs between £5,000 and £10,000 to fly in a team from Africa or Latin America and house and feed them in Edinburgh.
"It has been very hard and difficult, but I'll just have to beg, steal and borrow," he said, expressing disappointment with the response from the UK private sector. "With all this noise about poverty in Africa, the money should be forthcoming."
The England team is supported by Manchester United, whose staff will help coach and select the team. The Spanish side has links to Real Madrid.
The Dutch team is led by Steve Cromwell, 45, whose professional career was cut short in the 1980s by a serious injury. He drifted into drugs and lived on the streets. Now the coach of Haags Straatnieuws, he said: "Sports always had the capacity to lift me up on to my feet when I was down and out. When playing football, you forget about your problems. It opens your spirit."
There are some 5,000 people competing for a place in the 32 teams for the Homeless World Cup. For the organisers, the event serves a lever for social change - to get people healthy, for example.
"Ostensibly it's about football, but if people turn up and want to join a football project in Africa, for example, we'll ask them whether they've had a malaria jab. If not, we'll ask them to get one," said Mr Young.
For Mr Young and Mr Schmied, the Homeless World Cup is just the tip of the iceberg. Five or 10 years from now, they envisage homeless football teams in cities throughout the developing world, with city and inter-city competitions.
In April, London staged a "world cup" of five-a-side street football teams. Organised by British charity Street League, the event marked the end of the second annual conference of streetfootballworld, a Berlin-based international organisation that represents charities and social enterprises tackling poverty and other forms of disadvantage through football.
As for the forthcoming event in Edinburgh, Mr Young said: "We want to use football to get people out of poverty."
And where is UEFA and FIFA in all this then!!!!!
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