Homeless event makes strides in Mexico
© AFP

As aspiring teams throughout the world continued their battle for a place at Brazil 2014 earlier this month, a World Cup of a completely different kind was reaching its conclusion in Mexico City.

Celebrating its tenth edition, the annual Homeless World Cup tournament drew to a close with a final triumph for Chile in the men’s competition and hosts Mexico ruling among the women, following a nine-day event which featured hundreds of players representing 56 teams.

With thousands flocking to the iconic Zocalo plaza to watch the action unfold, the numbers are impressive but by no means a surprise. Since the tournament was launched in 2003, the Homeless World Cup has travelled through Gothenburg, Cape Town, Melbourne and Paris as the charity organisation continues to help those less fortunate.

Born in 2001 as the brainchild of co-founders Mel Young and Harald Schmied, the Homeless World Cup is merely the cornerstone of their work. The organisation has expanded to include 73 partners across the globe, joining together with the aim of using the power of football to change lives.

The best result this week was not on the pitch, but how the players took the next step to move forward in their lives and inspire other homeless people to do the same.
Mel Young, Homeless World Cup co-founder

“The Homeless World Cup has become a truly global organisation, with 73 national partners and over 250,000 people taking part in their football-based programmes,” explained Young, a recognised social entrepreneur.

“Thousands of people live in poverty or are homeless in every country across the globe, and the problem gets worse every year. Homeless people are often excluded and forgotten.

“They can become invisible. Yet it is possible to change the world and improve people’s lives, by taking small steps forward and inspiring each other. And the Homeless World Cup is one of these small steps in the bid to end homelessness and poverty forever. This is the power of sport in action.”

A United Nations study in 2005 estimated that as many as 100million people found themselves homeless worldwide, a crisis which football can play a part in solving, as shown by the success of the Homeless World Cup charity.

Through social enterprise and supporting the sport at grassroots level, the charity has reached 200,000 people in the decade since the idea was formed, and ambitious plans are in place to grow that number to 1million within the next two years.

A year-round effort
To achieve that goal, Young and Co hope to increase their national partners to 100, alongside creating bases in five continents, and produce concrete, tangible evidence that the Homeless World Cup leaves a lasting impact for participants.

The organisation’s own research suggests that 93 per cent of players felt a fresh motivation for life after taking part in the competition, 83 per cent believed their social relations improved, and seven out of ten testified that their lives had been changed “significantly”.

“The Homeless World Cup is a life-changing experience for many people as well as a unique sporting event,” Young added.  “For nine days we are meeting in Mexico City to enjoy some great football and share this experience, but for the other 356 days, we are also united in the fight against homelessness – and doing something about it.”

Great football was undoubtedly the order of the day in Mexico’s capital city, where the event’s idiosyncratic rules – including 14-minute matches, rolling substitutions and sudden-death penalty shoot-outs – ensured an entertaining festival.

Hosts reach both finals
Chile ran out 2012 winners over the hosts with a dramatic 8-5 final victory after Brazil had secured third place with a 6-2 triumph against Indonesia, although, in the spirit of the competition, every single player took home a medal.

The women’s tournament was a similar story, with South American duo Brazil and Chile joining Mexico at the semi-final stage, along with the Netherlands. The locals were celebrating this time, however, as the home country secured a 6-2 win over Brazil, while Chile took bronze.

With raucous support from those in attendance at the three street stadiums, which had been specifically constructed for the Homeless World Cup, and a growing presence on social media – match highlights and full coverage were presented online, for example – this edition enjoyed more attention than ever.

Young concluded: “Mexico City has staged a fantastic fiesta of football. They have organised a spectacular sporting event, attracting crowds of almost 200,000 people over the week and a global audience watching 'live' via Internet TV.

“Most importantly they have helped to raise the profile of homeless people by putting the most marginalised people centre stage and drawing the world’s attention to the disgrace of homelessness.

“Football has the power to transform lives and the best result this week was not on the pitch, but how the players took the next step to move forward in their lives and inspire other homeless people to do the same.”