Homeless World Cup : Changing lives through football

Football is a beautiful game that brings about unadulterated joy to everyone associated with it. Probably there is no better illustration of this as we are set to get the ball rolling for the Homeless World Cup. Indranath Mukherjee speaks about the incredible event, here at Goalden Times.

I was one among the lucky 5,154,386 people, who had attended the FIFA Fan Fests in Brazil during the World Cup in 2014. There is no wonder FIFA World Cup is called the greatest show on Earth. The beautiful game is a thing of joy for many, the players as well as the spectators. The game today has money, fame and glamour galore for the football players on and off the pitch.

In the same world, we have the Homeless World Cup kicking off this Saturday, September 12th, in Amsterdam with 48 participating nations. The Homeless World Cup is truly a unique tournament where thousands of players over the world have received a new start. The participants come from the extremely underprivileged sections of the society, mainly children and young men and women living in slums, including those squatting on government land, those displaced because of natural disasters, and children of sex workers.

Mexico Women's Team winning the 2012 Homeless World in Mexico City
Mexico Women’s Team winning the 2012 Homeless World in Mexico City

From a humble beginning in 2001 with just 18 countries, the Homeless World Cup today partners 74 countries and there are still more eager to join in. Mel Young, Co-Founder and President, Homeless World Cup sees a clear trend in how the tournament is making an impact by breaking stereotypes. The work that he and his team are doing seems fairly simple, getting kids off the street and making them play football. But the way their involvement is helping the kids to build confidence and self-belief is simply remarkable. No fame can match this change in human lives and their lies the power of football. Mr. Young nicely articulates the long-term goal of the tournament saying, “The ultimate aim of the Homeless World Cup is not to exist because we shouldn’t have to have a Homeless World Cup in the first place ‘cause their shouldn’t be any homelessness.” He also points out that it would require systemic change but urges people around to “Do small things. If we all do something small, we’ll change the world.” Why small things? “Because its simple and it works” tells Mel.

In India, Dr. Abhijeet Barse has taken up the task of doing the ‘small things’. His father founded “Slum Soccer” (www.slumsoccer.org) in 2001 in Nagpur to offer sporting opportunities and personal development programs to disadvantaged young people across India. Their objective is simple, reaching out to the underprivileged Indians and using football as a tool for social empowerment. While I am writing this, the team, consisting of eight boys and eight girls, is preparing to leave for Amsterdam from Mumbai. This is the seventh occasion that India is participating in the Homeless World Cup.

Slum Soccer organizes an annual national championship across multiple locations in India and out of the 16-18 plus participating teams; they select 32 players every year. When I asked Dr. Barse about the selection process, he mentioned, “obviously football skill is a key criteria, but we also look at leadership qualities in the players so that they can inspire the next generation of players from their area”.

The selected 32 players then go through a rigorous training and finally 8 players get selected for the Homeless World Cup. The Homeless World Cup teams can be all male, all female or mixed consisting of eight players in total. At any point in time, four players can play with one goalkeeper and three outfield players. Substitution is done on a rolling basis. Two halves of seven minutes each are being played with one minute interval in between each half. The pitch is 22 metres long and 16 metres wide. The goal is four meters wide by 1.3 meters tall. The penalty area is a four meter half circle. A size five ball is used.

The Homeless World Cup is an annual event and the same player can’t participate twice in the tournament. It is truly an aspirational event that showcases the remarkable work of the different national partners on an international stage. The tournament this year is the 13th edition of the Homeless World Cup and being coordinated by an organization called Life Goals in collaboration with the Dutch Salvation Army, Amsterdam City Council and Sportsgen Sport Marketing.

There are eight groups in the men’s section (men’s team can be men’s only or mixed) this year with both the Latin American giants in football Argentina and Brazil featuring in group A while India has been drawn in group G. In the women’s section there are two groups of eight teams each, team India is in group B along with USA and England among others.

After the group stage games, second rounds of groups will be created based on the final standings in the first stage. There are eight trophies in the final stage and all the teams will have the opportunity to play for one of eight trophies.Teams in the top half of the standings in the second stage will play for a chance to compete for the Homeless World Cup trophy.

Chile will start the campaign as the defending champion this year and if they can defend successfully they will be the first nation to win it for the third time. The other countries with two titles are Brazil, Italy and Scotland.

The two Indian teams this year has been coached by Andy Hook, the development manager of Street Soccer Scotland, for a month before they got ready to fly to Amsterdam. Andy was the director of football at the Homeless World Cup Foundation for four years until till 2012.

Team India for the World Cup, Amsterdam 2015
Team India for the World Cup, Amsterdam 2015

Slum Soccer in India has been working relentlessly and creatively to use the beautiful game as a vehicle that transcends race, religion, language and gender to bring about a change in the lives of street dwellers. Dr. Barse mentioned “When you give the balls to them, they play, they enjoy and they start getting confident but as most of these boys and girls come from slums, they hardly have any documents and getting the paperwork done has been an additional challenge”. The local government and police do help to get the documentation done at times which makes his job easy and helps him focus on the real job.

“When you give the balls to them, they play, they enjoy and they start getting confident but as most of these boys and girls come from slums, they hardly have any documents and getting the paperwork done has been an additional challenge”

We need our mainstream media to cover these events. There is serious lack of awareness of an event of such impact. Each one of us could do our “small things” as well by joining the supporters club of the Homeless World Cup (https://www.homelessworldcup.org/become-supporter/) and contribute to changing the lives of others using football.