Football’s Global Street Champions

The Homeless World Cup arrives in Brazil, encouraging the involvement of young people from all over the world through football

Rio de Janeiro doesn’t need to wait until 2014 to host a football world championship. Between the 19th and 26th of September, the beaches of Copacabana will be the stage for the Homeless World Cup, which will mark it’s eighth edition with 64 teams contending for the 1st place trophy. This time, however, Spain is not the favourite; it’s not even among the teams taking part in the tournament. Instead, countries such as Haiti, Palestine, Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan will compete. And that’s just one of the many differences between this championship and the play-offs organised by Fifa every four years.

“In 2001, I was having a beer with a friend, Harald Schmied. We figured we could make up a language for homeless people that only they could understand. Then we said: “Well, there is an international language; it’s football”, reveals Mel Young, founder and president of the championship. Some years previously, Young successfully introduced the Big Issue magazine in Scotland, and was hoping to use the Homeless World Cup to bring into public discussion the issue of homelessness – a common problem all over the world – and to transform the lives of those in an unstable or harmful social situation.

But it’s not just it’s objectives that differentiates this championship from the one in which Brazil has triumphed 5 times as a champion. Instead of 11 players, only 4 play on the pitch, with the same number on the bench. Each half of the match lasts seven minutes, with a minute’s halftime. And the most interesting feat is that everyone is a winner. In addition to the main cup, there are five more trophies as well as medals for all participants. There will also be a further prize for five coaches who best encourage fair play in their team. Something for Fifa to consider?

In order to take part in the Homeless World Cup, the players (male or female) must be 16 years or over and have experienced an unstable social situation in the last year, such as treatment for drug dependency or homelessness. Each country creates their own selection process, which in Brazil is coordinated by the Non-Governmental Organisation Futebol Social, founded by Revista Ocas. “This is an opportunity for those on the street to slip out of the margins and into the centre of the city onto a global stage, where they represent their countries, feel real pride and are applauded by millions”, Mel Young explains.

The stories of young people who started a football career after having competed in the Homeless World Cup are not few and far between. This is the case of Michelle da Silva, from the shanty town of Ciudade de Deus in Rio de Janeiro, who after having participated in the Cup in Copenhagen in 2007, secured a place in the under 20s Female Brazilian National Football Team. “The impact is consistently significant year on year with 73% of players changing their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes, training and reuniting with families”, highlights Young.

If there is any similarity with the Fifa Cup, it has to be the selection process of hosting the championship. Each country puts itself forward and competes with other locations in offering the necessary conditions to host the tournament. But the resemblance ends there, since every edition of the Homeless World Cup leaves a legacy for the nation that sheltered it. In Brazil a community centre will be constructed in Santa Cruz, the town with the lowest Human Development Index in Rio de Janeiro, and a small factory in São Paulo, manufacturing products with surplus materials from Nike, one of the sponsors of the competition.

By Morena Madureira


A cup endorsed by legends
The Homeless World Cup depends on the support of various football personalities, such as Eric Cantona, Didier Drogba and Rio Ferdinand. The championship has already promoted the creation of social sports programmes in over 70 countries, benefiting close to 100 thousand young people. The first tournament took place in Graz, Austria, in 2003, bringing 18 countries together to take part. In Brazil there will be 48 male teams and 16 female teams.

The Homeless World Cup
19th-26th September, 2010, Rio

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