Have you heard of the Homeless World Cup? If not you may be forgiven thinking it sounds like a joke but it’s real and it’s awesome for many different reasons. The tournament is held annually in host cities around the world. The members of each team must have been homeless at some point in the previous year, a group that consists of both our typical American idea of the urban homeless person as well as the millions of refugees stranded around the world.
The tournament is positive on so many levels. First, it provides the players with a goal and a real activity other than simply surviving or finding distractions that may do more harm than good. The despondent woman sleeping in alleys in Manhattan or the teenage boy that lives in a filthy camp in Afghanistan can have something to work for. Many homeless Americans have described their lives as very boring and unstimulating which means that any activity helps to some degree. The competitors get to travel to a place that many of them would never see otherwise and although the lodgings are modest, they’re downright decadent compared to the living conditions of many of the competitors.. For many of the players, the experience can act as a catalyst for starting a new life. As positive as the tournament is, no one wants to see repeat participants – they’d rather all of the players be able to become “ineligible” for a Homeless World Cup.
The playing field consists of an interesting mix of athletes new to soccer and has-beens that once had a chance at a pro career. Even though it’s a tournament for the homeless, it’s very competitive. Many of the players don’t have the luxury of dreams; winning a championship against opponents from around the world is everything to some of them. There has been a great trickle-down effect since the tournament began in 2006. There are now homeless soccer programs in cities around the world. The United States team is now selected from organizations around the country that compete in a national championship tournament. This means that there are goals and dreams at many levels; even if a player can’t make the World Cup team, he or she might make their city/state team. Failing that, they might do well in their local league. For every player in the Homeless World Cup, there are hundreds more benefiting from the movement.
For the record, the sport played at the Homeless World Cup is soccer, although it’s a rather unique version quite different from standard field soccer, and possessing a few qualities from futsal, USA-style indoor soccer, and UK-style five-a-side soccer. The playing area is very small, and each side has 4 players on the court at a time, including the goalie. Substitutions are frequent and there are runner boards surrounding the court (like in ice hockey). The United States system is calling the movement street soccer and it describes that actual game quite well.
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