Cardiff, United Kingdom
VIJAY SHAH via BBC News
The world’s homeless, through simply not having a proper roof over their head, are forced to live on the margins of society, ignored, distrusted and in some cases, attacked by ignorant individuals and unfriendly legal and political mechanisms, but an international sports competition coming to the Welsh capital aims to make the homeless take centre stage and hopefully give them a voice and changes for the better.
The Homeless World Cup, now in its seventeenth year, kicks off in Cardiff’s Bute Park today with five hundred players from forty-eight countries taking part. Free of charge to enter, organisers expect 80,000 visitors over the course of the tournament, which will feature both women’s and men’s matches. The Cup developed from an idea discussed between Big Issue Scotland co-founder Mel Young and Austrian journalist Harald Schmied, following a conference about homelessness in 2001.
The first tournament was held in the Austrian city of Graz in 2003, and since then, many major world cities such as Melbourne (Australia) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) have hosted the championship, organised with seventy international street football partners helping homeless people turn their lives into something better. Many of the players come from homeless hostels and shelters and are recruited through word-of-mouth and informal organised kickabouts. Up to eighty per cent of players go on to get off the streets, finding homes, employment and normal lives.
This year’s tournament will last for a week, and aims to raise awareness about homelessness to visitors to Cardiff, a city which has around 4,500 homeless people, according to British housing and homelessness charity Shelter.
In addition to the play-offs, there will also be discussions around this often-ignored social issue as well as entertainment like music festivals, photography and art representing people experiencing homelessness, stand-up comedy and podcasts. Circus skills workshops, bicycle powered bubble machines, duck races and sporting activities will also be available to visitors at Bute Park. Cardiff will be the third UK city to host the Homeless World Cup, after Edinburgh and Glasgow. The city was supported in its bid to stage this powerful moment of change by American actor Michael Sheen, who spoke with BBC News, who supplied the reports for this article.
Sheen said: “I think it’s incredibly important to break through the stereotypes and the cliches and the myths around homelessness and to see it’s not this solid group of people over there who are the homeless,”
“The more stories that you hear about people, the more you engage with people’s experiences the easier it is to understand and empathise with what’s going on and that it’s something can happen to anyone.
“It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, things can turn and you need support and help. Only then can you really appreciate the people who have been putting the work into that for years.
“It shouldn’t be just when you need it, we should as a community take responsibility and make sure everyone gets the help they need.”
“In a way, once the football finishes, we’ve got to role [sic] our sleeves up and start doing the real work.”
The tournament’s organiser, Mel Young, hailed the World Cup, which follows in the footsteps of the Women’s World Cup held last month, which was won by England, as a chance for homeless people to tell their stories.
“One of the things that makes Wales slightly different is the determination that there’s a lasting legacy. This discussion about how we end homelessness all together.’, Young told BBC News.
“We know the Welsh are very keen on this legacy and it’s one of the reasons we wanted to come to Wales.”
Following a special parade from Cardiff’s Principality Stadium to Bute Park, the official opening ceremony will take place at 12.00 noon local time today, with the first match scheduled just half an hour later, according to the BBC. The World Cup in Cardiff is being managed by local partner Street Football Wales (SFW). SFW’s founder Keri Harris said to BBC News: “It should be a really big opportunity for them [the footballers] to go back into their lives after and make the changes they need to make,”
“We’ve seen the proof every single year we’ve been doing this over the last 16 years.
“There’s so many people who have been to the tournament, played in the world cup and come back and changed their lives and are just an inspiration.”
The Cup’s set-up is simple with each four-a-side match lasting for fourteen minutes, consisting of seven-minute halves and games are decided by penalties if they end in a draw. The favourites are the Brazilian and Mexican men’s, and the Mexican women’s sides, who have lifted twelve trophies between them. The final will be on the 3rd August, 2019.
“Cardiff 2019: Football’s Homeless World Cup ‘can create change'” – BBC News/BBC (27 July 2019) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-49071184
“Cardiff 2019: What is the Homeless World Cup?” – BBC News/BBC (25 July 2019) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-49071183