The 10th Homeless World Cup kicked off in Mexico this week.
The annual tournament is a time to celebrate the year-round work of the Homeless World Cup Foundation’s 73 national partners and brings together homeless and socially disadvantaged men and women from many diffrerent countries, but it also highlights the issue of homelessness and seeks to improve public awareness of homeless people.
The first tournament in Graz, Austria, in 2003, brought together players from 18 countries. This year, the event will feature over 500 players from almost 50 countries and the first two days has already seen 50,000 visitors turn up to watch.
Alex Lawson caught up with Co-founder Mel Young to speak about the world’s biggest tournament in recognition of the plight of homelessness.
Mexico 2012 represents the 10-year anniversary for the annual tournaments. What are your best memories looking back over the past decade?
I remember when the very first ball was kicked in the first match in Graz in 2003, seeing the looks on people’s faces – players, coaches, spectators.
Welcoming Desmond Tutu to the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town in 2006 was also another memorable highlight.
The Homeless World Cup become a truly global organisation, with 73 national partners and over 250,000 people taking part in football-based programmes and following the paths of former players as they change their lives for the better is something that always humbles me.
Manchester United’s Bebe’s captivating story continues to inspire. Do you have scouts attending the tournaments and what can we expect in terms of footballing quality at Mexico?
Some teams can be competitive while others come for the experience – meeting other players and exchanging their stories is really what it’s all about for most participants. Some of the football is fantastic and we often have highly skilled individuals – some of whom may progress to a higher level.
It’s a damning indictment of the developed world to have major cities rife with homelessness. What needs to be done to further support those finding themselves on the streets?
Yes, homelessness and poverty are a disgrace, wherever they are found. In the US, 3.5 million people are homeless. This is not just a human tragedy but also economic and social madness. We have to get out there and make homeless people feel cared for and valued. Included not excluded. Valued not rejected.
What can be done to remove the stigma attached to those finding themselves homeless?
This is part of the mission of the Homeless World Cup. We don’t hide homelessness or avoid talking about it. We bring the subject into the open and we show the world what homeless people are really like – just like everyone else.
From your extensive travels around the world, what initiatives can you highlight as having had a positive impact on improving the fight against homelessness?
All of our National Partners have excellent initiatives – that’s why we work with them. For example, in Uganda, Girls Kick it has used football as a platform for a radical programme of change, helping socially excluded women in remote areas by bringing them back into the community, and providing them with chicken houses, to help them become economically sustainable. Rumah Cemara in Indonesia is doing a great job to fight the stigma of HIV.
Why is football the perfect tool to instigate social change?
Football is popular, universal, easy to play – all you need is a ball. Anyone can enjoy it – young or old. Homeless people are often excluded and forgotten. They can become invisible. Yet it is possible to change the world and improve people’s lives, by taking small steps forward and inspiring each other. And the Homeless World Cup is one of these small steps in the bid to end homelessness and poverty forever. This is the power of sport in action.
What has been the significance of digital media in helping to raise the profile of HMW?
Embracing digital media has been highly significant. Apart from the Homeless World Cup Facebook and Twitter accounts, partners like Indonesia and USA use social media to great advantage to reach out and engage a wider audience.
What can the media do to further the cause?
The media must tell the world our story. Highlighting the disgrace of homelessness, its causes and solutions to the wider public is the only way of combating the problem.
The 10th annual Homeless World Cup in Mexico City runs from October 6-14, 2012.
This year’s tournament has been organised by a Local Organising Committee headed by Street Soccer Mexico and supported by Fundacion Telmex, which is also a global partner of the Homeless World Cup Foundation, along with UEFA and Nike.
The venue for the tournament is the Zocalo, the historic plaza in the heart of Mexico City, where three street-soccer stadiums with a total capacity of about 5,000 people have been specially constructed for the event.
Tags: Community, Homeless World Cup, Mel Young, Mexico 2012