The UEFA-backed Homeless World Cup kicked off in Paris on Sunday in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
The ninth edition of the tournament will run between 20 and 28 August on the Champ de Mars and, by engaging 64 teams of homeless people, it will underscore football's function as a tool for social improvement and integration.
The objective of this 4v4 street soccer event is to fight the exclusion suffered by the homeless and to encourage them to change their lives while also drawing attention to the problem of homelessness around the world.
The participants regain self-confidence, with studies showing that the lives of more than 70% of the players changed for the better after taking part in the competition.
In its drive for social responsibility, UEFA has backed the Homeless World Cup from the beginning, and the tournament has grown considerably since its first edition in Graz in 2003.
The initiative's creator and director Mel Young said: "The event has grown beyond our wildest dreams. We would never have dreamed of having a match by the Eiffel Tower, or having the draw at the Stade de France, or even playing on the Champ de Mars with 64 teams. But I think the main thing is the impact on the players: their lives are changing thanks to football."
Tournament ambassador Emmanuel Petit concurred: "The most important is the social impact this tournament can have. It gets people off the streets so they can regain a certain dignity through well-defined rules and structures. The on-pitch performance is important, but what we're really striving for is the social impact."
Sunday's curtain-raising ceremony involved 800 people, representing 53 countries – with 48 men's and 16 women's teams – parading through the streets of the French capital from the Trocadéro to the tournament site on the Champ de Mars, to the sounds of drums, laughter and songs from all over the globe.
In his opening speech, Petit said: "I hope this week will be memorable for everyone, for the competition and for the future. I declare the Homeless World Cup open."
The competition began in earnest when hosts France and Portugal lined up for the first match on one of the three championship pitches. Although France's men lost 8-5 to the No1 world-ranked Portuguese, the home nation's women promptly beat Paraguay 6-4 to keep spirits high. The spotlight was also shared by less-heralded countries such as Palestine and Kyrgyzstan, and it was the former who registered the best result of the day, a 19-0 victory over South Korea.
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