The tenth UEFA-backed Homeless World Cup is underway in Mexico City, and is showing how football's massive appeal can help homeless people to change their lives.
UEFA is one of the global partners of the competition, which features 59 teams and will be played until 14 October, culminating in a final in one of three custom-built street soccer stadiums in the Plaza de la Constitución, Mexico City. The objective of the 4v4 street soccer event is to fight the exclusion suffered by the homeless and to encourage them to seek better futures, while also drawing attention to the problem of homelessness across 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.
The Homeless World Cup was founded by Mel Young from Scotland and Harald Schmied from Austria, who came up with the idea at a conference on homelessness in Cape Town in 2001. They both believed that it was possible to change the lives of homeless people through football, and two years later in 2003, the first Homeless World Cup tournament took place in Graz, Austria.
The Homeless World Cup supports grassroots football programmes and social enterprise development via a network of 73 national partners and celebrates its work by organising this annual football tournament that unites teams of homeless people from countries around the globe. As part of its social responsibility activities, UEFA has backed the Homeless World Cup from the beginning, and the tournament has grown considerably since that first edition in Graz.
The tournament creates an opportunity for players to play for their country and meet and build relationships with homeless people from other countries. It also changes people's attitudes to homelessness – in all cities where the tournament is held, people who are homeless report improved relations with the public. French legend Eric Cantona is the Homeless World Cup ambassador.
Organisers took the opportunity to explain the competition's raison d’être at last week's UEFA seminar on corporate social responsibility in Sarajevo. "You are without shelter, you have lost everything, you have no self-esteem, you don't know where you're going to sleep at night," said Homeless World Cup chief executive Craig Campbell. "Then, the chance comes along to have a game of football – perhaps you played it when you were young – and you realise then how much you enjoy it." From there, for some young homeless people, the road leads to participation in the Homeless World Cup. "Change can happen,” Campbell added. "You are representing your country, and you go home with a new sense of identity."
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.