Home » Nouvelles » info globales » Australia: Homeless World Cup - More Than Football

Mostra/Nascondi il menu

Australia: Homeless World Cup - More Than Football

MELBOURNE, Dec 4 (IPS) - While the action has been fast and furious among the 56 teams competing in the 2008 Homeless World Cup -- a football tournament in which homeless and marginalised people from around the world represent their respective nations -- the problems associated with homelessness are never too far away.

By Stephen de Tarczynski

"In Liberia we very much need help, most especially with the homeless," said 20-year-old Dehkontee Sayon, fresh from scoring four goals for her country in a 16-1 victory over fellow West African nation Cameroon at the Homeless World Cup (HWC), currently being played in Australia for the first time.
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.
The young Liberian is competing in what is another first for the Dec.1-7 tournament -- the inaugural HWC was played in Graz, Austria in 2003, with the competition held annually ever since -- which sees a separate women’s cup also being contested, with teams from Kyrgyzstan, Paraguay, Colombia, Zambia, Uganda and Australia joining the two aforementioned African nations.
They have joined the 48 men’s teams who have converged on Melbourne -- three stadiums have been erected in the city’s Federation Square and along the iconic Yarra River -- to compete for the seven trophies on offer.
The hotly contested matches -- games consist of two seven-minute halves, with four players per team on the pitch at any one time -- boast highly-skilled players, chanting fans, as well as the presence of international and local media -- SBS television will be broadcasting the final live across Australia -- to add to an atmosphere reminiscent of an International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) world cup or a major continental championship.
But while players at the HWC, just like their professional counterparts, have celebrated winning and displayed disappointment at losing, this tournament’s ultimate prize is not about being victorious in the final.
Instead, a higher ideal is at play: the aim of changing lives for the better.
In 2005, the United Nations estimated that some 100 million people around the world were homeless, while more than one billion lacked adequate housing.
President of the HWC, Mel Young -- a Scotsman who co-founded the competition with Austrian, Harold Schmied -- says that this situation is unsustainable.
"We have to come together and do something about it," he said at the launch of the Melbourne HWC. "This is a very important moment in history right now."
Organisers say that the HWC is indeed having a positive effect. An impact report from last year’s HWC, held in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, found that 71 percent of participants saw significant changes in their lives, such as getting a job, moving into a home, and ending dependencies on drugs and alcohol.
"This is what drives us. This is what matters. That people who are homeless are energised and can enjoy a sense of community, fun and friendship, love and encouragement and see positive change for themselves," said Young in a prologue to the impact report.
Such sentiments have also been expressed by players and team officials present in Melbourne.
Manager of the Zimbabwean men’s team, Tawanda Karasa -- whose efforts in using football to empower homeless and marginalised people in his home country, as well as the logistics of organising passports and travel arrangements for the players in the squad, are the subject of a documentary film, Street Soccer Zimbabwe -- told IPS that while the Zimbabweans are excited to be in Australia to play at the HWC, there is more than football at stake.
"This means a sign of hope for them. The fact that they are here with other people and making friends and sharing ideas and experiences is going to inspire them. They are going to have a new motivation," said Karasa.
Anahí Duarte Sckell, team manager of Paraguay in the women’s competition, spoke with IPS shortly after her side was soundly beaten by fellow South Americans, Colombia.
Although the Paraguayans -- most of whom speak Guaraní, an indigenous language of Paraguay, rather than the country’s other official language, Spanish -- were disappointed at suffering their third straight defeat, Duarte Sckell was keen to impress on her players the real value of participating in the HWC.
"I was talking to them today, saying that this experience doesn’t have to end here. When they go home they have to see what the impact is on them and in their community from this experience," she said, describing being in Melbourne as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for the young women, all of whom are aged from 16 to 18.
And while the Paraguayans are from an agricultural school, Cameroon’s women’s team is also from the countryside.
"The girls who are here are underprivileged girls who, in Cameroon itself, have never travelled to the capital city. This was the first time to get a passport, to fly, so it’s really an experience," said Gisele Yitamben, who is travelling with the team.
She told IPS that she has witnessed a change in the players, whose experiences, including staying in a foreign country with a different culture and language -- the women come from a French-speaking area of Cameroon -- have boosted their confidence levels.
"From the first day to today [day three of the competition], I’m seeing the people, they have changed," said Yitamben. "They came here very timid. [Now] they’re opening up."
And while the HWC has spawned grass-roots football programmes across more than 60 countries, with some 30,000 homeless and marginalised players involved throughout the year, the ability of the round-ball game -- the world’s most popular sport -- to transcend barriers and give hope to millions of disadvantaged people around the world is perhaps best-expressed by a short comment made to IPS at the 2008 HWC.
"Futebol é vida" (Football is life), said Portugal’s Humberto Spranger in his native tongue.