SANTIAGO, Chile — After the FIFA frenzy dies down after a soccer-packed summer, Chile will host a different kind of tournament: The Homeless World Cup. The event is scheduled for mid-October, and will see over 70 national partners come together in support of small-scale soccer programs and social development.
This year marks the organization’s 12th year improving the lives of people living in poverty through soccer.
“Over 70 percent of players significantly change their lives after taking part in the annual tournament,” said spokespeople from the organization. “And many more benefit throughout the year.”
The Homeless World Cup is the brainchild of Mel Young of Scotland and Harald Schmied of Austria, who came together at an international conference on homelessness in Cape Town in 2001 to develop the idea of helping the poor through sports.
The organization provides support and management training to grassroots soccer programs in impoverished and excluded areas. In addition, an annual World Cup is organized with the help of national partners such as Street Soccer USA in the United States, People to People International in Colombia and the Homeless Football Association in England.
On a broad scale, the Homeless World Cup helps countless small-scale soccer clubs become sustainable, positive arenas in which homeless people can build relationships, develop communities and have fun. It also helps to improve relations between homeless people and the public.
More specifically, the organization’s annual tournament gives 16 individuals from each member country, eight men and eight women, the opportunity to represent his or her homeland in the international event. The players have access to educational, employment, health and legal resources through the various national partners operating in their countries. The Homeless World Cup as a whole is dedicated to supporting the athletes as they make the most of the experience and as they return to their home countries after the final whistle blows.
Shankari Krishnan of India, playing for her country in the Homeless World Cup in Poznań, Poland in 2013, represents the kind of success for which this organization strives. Shankari began to play soccer by chance and quickly fell in love with the sport as it offered her a diversion from daily struggles. She was accepted to an undergraduate program under a sports quota following her Homeless World Cup experience in Poland. Shankari wants to be a manager of a bank after she completes her studies.
Many other players in the tournament have reported becoming more involved in their communities upon returning from the international event, and take pride in their accomplishments. “The experience that I have obtained through the duration of the tournament motivated me a lot,” testifies Bongani of Team South Africa. “After I came back I became more involved in community outreach work which I am giving back to my community and sharing my experience that I have obtained in H.W.C… I can proudly say now I am a role model in my community.”
In the midst of FIFA’s flashy competition, the Homeless Word Cup reveals that every country represented on that dazzling stage is also dealing with poverty and homelessness in its own way. Although sporting events have gained an ugly reputation for bulldozing over impoverished communities to make way for their lavish productions, the Homeless World Cup highlights the good side of sports grounded in resilience, teamwork and motivation.
– Kayla Strickland
Sources: Anthony Epes Photography, The Homeless World Cup, Hyperallergic