Hope for the homeless
© AFP

The fifth annual Homeless World Cup kicked off in Copenhagen, Denmark on 29 July 2007. The week-long event is not only an international tournament for homeless people, but it also addresses the social exclusion that is often associated with homelessness. Five-hundred players from 48 countries are competing for Homeless World Cup title.

Many notable personalities have lent their support to the event, which is growing in size and stature on the international calendar. Last year, Pele was in Cape Town, South Africa for the competition, and this year French legend Eric Cantona agreed to be its ambassador in Copenhagen.

To have a goal is important
Cantona believes that "homelessness is a big problem in all of France and the world", and so for him, getting involved was a "great idea". The man who made significant contribution to Manchester United's dominance of English football during the 1990s gave a coaching clinic to the homeless players and participated in a question and answer session, offering advice.

His recipe for success is fairly simple: to have a goal. "As a player, you go to training and try to be in the team every week. The most important thing is that you wake up in the morning and try to help and to have a goal. You don't need football for that, it is general."

Statistics provided by the Homeless World Cup Organisation on last year's event in Cape Town indicate that 92 percent of the participants had a new motivation on life and 73% improved their lives for the better. It is apparent to see where Cantona is coming from.

New found strength
The experience and opportunity to play football has had a profound impact on the Danish players. Ken Bell Rasmussen, the top scorer for the Danish team, was reunited with his mother after a 17-year absence, while former drug addict Kenny Christensen, 42, celebrated being clean for two years on the second day of the Homeless World Cup.

For him, football has given him a new lease on life. Christensen says that because of his involvement with the Homeless World Cup, he finally has "something new and meaningful in my life besides drugs. So I do not want it to stop (playing). I just love playing football."

His team-mate, Frank Clifforth, is also a former drug and alcohol addict. Clifforth has had a challenging life, but football has given him new found strength. "When I was a young boy, playing football made me happy, but the fun stopped," he tells FIFA.com. "Playing today, I feel like I have won - I have beaten my aggression. Today I'm calm and cool, something I would never have dreamed possible."

Change in Attitude
Mel Young, the President of the Homeless World Cup, has also seen the change in attitude towards homeless people. He told FIFA.com that "the media generally portray homeless people as down and out disease-ridden people, but they have been very positive about the games. The reaction of the crowd is very positive."

Young believes that football has contributed immensely in helping others. "Quietly, football does a lot to help and the players are sometimes portrayed as spoiled but a majority are not." He is surprised at the success of the Homeless World Cup, saying "I underestimated the power of football."

The final of the Homeless World Cup will be played on 04 August 2007, with the Crown Prince of Denmark in attendance.