Monday, December 8, 2008

Homeless World Champions Head Home to Afghanistan

Lately I have often wondered about how the sports industry can give people a reason to play. Well: here’s an example. The Homeless World Cup that just concluded its sixth edition in Melbourne gives people a better life through playing and is an outstanding effort in the field of changing lives.

World Cup 2008

Fifty-six countries (including India) participated in Melbourne and the team from war-torn Afghanistan emerged as the Men’s Champions thereby emerging as the first non-European champions. The Women’s Championship, instituted for the first time was won by Zambia.
More than 500 players and coaches attended the event and as they return to their native lands (but not their homes), many will hopefully see better lives and better opportunities for having been world cup participants.

Who are the World cuppers?

This is quoted from the tournament’s website and lists the eligibility criteria for participants of this year’s event:
  • Are male or female and at least 16 years old (must have turned 16 before 01.12.2008) and
  • Are or have been homeless at some point after 1.12.2007, in accordance with the national definition of homelessness or
  • Make their main living income as street paper vendor or
  • Are asylum seekers currently without positive asylum status or who were previously asylum seekers but obtained residency status after 1st December 2007 or
  • Are currently in drug or alcohol rehabilitation and have been homeless at some point in the past two years (post 01.12.2006)
  • Have not taken part in previous Homeless World Cup tournaments.

The Story Behind the World Cup

The story of the Homeless World Cup is the story of Mel Young and Harald Schmied. The following excerpt is taken from Mel Young’s profile on (

Mel Young, 53, is recognised as one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

In 1993 he co-founded The Big Issue in Scotland, with Tricia Hughes. The weekly magazine is sold by homeless people in the streets of Scotland and now has a circulation of 40,000. With the success of The Big Issue in Scotland, he helped set up the International Network of Street Papers, a global network of over sixty street papers sold in every continent, of which he is Honorary President. The combined annual circulation of these papers is over 30 million helping 100,000 homeless or long-term unemployed people throughout the world every year.

It was in Cape Town, at the end of the 2001 INSP conference, that Mel and Austrian born Harald Schmied attempted to invent an international language to enable homeless people to communicate with each other around the world. When they realised one already existed – football – the Homeless World Cup was born. The first tournament was held in Austria in 2003 with 18 teams attending from around the world. This was followed by Sweden 2004, Edinburgh 2005, Cape Town 2006 and was staged in Copenhagen in July 2007 with 48 teams taking part.

The Impact

According to stats collected by the people behind the show, 77% of all participants see a positive change in their lives. According to a write-up on

Post event research, done six months after the Edinburgh tournament, showed that, of 217 homeless competitors, 38% were in regular employment, 40% had improved their housing situation, and only 18% were still selling street papers. And a whopping 94% declared that they had 'a new motivation for life.'

Moreover, the Homeless World Cup has led to grassroots football programmes in over sixty countries with over 30,000 homeless people involved.

The Indian Chapter

Prof. Vijay Barse from Nagpur has driven slum football in India and got his inspiration watching some slum dwellers kick a bucket as a football one rainy afternoon. As founder of the Krida Vikas Manch he began by organizing slum football tournaments for Nagpur dwellers. The scale of his efforts grew significantly over the years and now Vijay is responsible for the Indian team’s presence in the World Cup. For the record, India is ranked 45th out of 48 countries in the Homeless Football World Rankings.

Closing Thoughts

The success and growth of the Homeless World Cup is a salute to the individuals who go beyond the thought of seeing a change and take it upon themselves to make the change. Individuals like Prof. Vijay Barse and Mel Young succeed because they do not give up on an idea in a weak moment and carry it through to its conclusion.

But to give kudos only to them will be to leave the real ‘stars’ out. Some of the real stars are:
  • Sayeed Reza, who has been begging on the streets of Kabul for five years and scored 3 of his team’s 5 goals in the final
  • Patrick Mbeu - former national team player for Rwanda, Mbeu lived in a shelter for political refugees in France before playing in the 2007 Homeless World Cup in Copenhagen, Denmark. This year, Mbeu is coaching the French team and earning his training certificate with the soccer club Paris Saint-Germain.
  • 20-year-old Dehkontee Sayon from Liberia. Sayon is unemployed and technically homeless -- she lives with a friend in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia -- having previously studied accounting at the United Methodist University. "I stopped because of a lack of financial support," she told IPS.
  • David Duke: Personal problems led to alcoholism which led to homelessness. Now this Scot is getting his life back on track after playing the homeless world cup and finding a reason for pride.
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