‘It’s like I am a real citizen for the first time in my life. It was almost like becoming a football star. I have discovered a new person, a better person inside of me.’ Like many other players who took part in last year’s Homeless World Cup in Edinburgh, Joao Semedo of Portugal has benefited from the experience.
Since it was established in 2001 by the International Network of Street Papers Conference (INSP), the annual tournament has sought to use football as a medium through which homeless men and women can change their lives for the better. By playing for their country, being part of a team and enjoying a sense of belonging, participants can improve their self-esteem, something that they can then use to change their situation.
This is certainly borne out in practice. Since taking part, over 70 per cent of players have gained regular employment, improved their housing situation or chosen to develop their education. Several have even gone on to make their living partly from football as coaches or players with professional and semi-professional teams.
One such success story is David Duke, who represented Scotland in 2004 and returns to this year’s tournament in Cape Town as the team coach. He had become homeless and developed a drinking problem following the death of his father. According to David: ‘Playing for my country was the rope I needed to pull myself out of a dark hole. It gave me all the tools I need for a confident life.’ He now has his own home, has taken a higher national certificate (HNC) in community development and is a qualified football coach.
This year teams from over 40 countries will take part in the tournament, which will take place in South Africa for a week from 23 September. Funding to get to Cape Town varies from country to country. While most teams from developed countries have been able to get help from high-profile football teams and corporate sponsors, developing countries are supplementing their limited sponsorship with local fund-raising campaigns.
For some – such as Kazakhstan – it’s the first time. Team coach Ludmilla Kiktenko feels that ‘the most important aspect of the tournament is that it highlights the issues of homelessness and poverty all over the world. It can reach an audience greater than any other campaign.’
Last year’s tournament drew total crowds of over 50,000 and significant media publicity by tapping into the limitless international appetite for football. As a result the Homeless World Cup is not only encouraging homeless people to participate, it is also attracting the attention of the public, giving them an education into the issues surrounding homelessness and letting them witness people working hard to change their lives for the better.
For more information, or to help support several African teams to participate, visit the website http://www.streetsocccer.org>Jim Keoghan