The Homeless World Cup was conceived in 2001 in a bar in Cape Town, South Africa.
I was having a beer with my great friend Harald Schmied who ran a street paper for homeless people in Graz, Austria. We had been taking part in the annual conference of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP). I had been one of the founders of INSP, a network for street papers – a bit like a trade association.
We never had much money but we were able to meet together once a year. The conference in 2001 had been inspiring. The atmosphere was really positive and the conference hall was full of “can do” energy. There were many fabulous contributions and we all shared good practices. We sat up late into the night talking about how we could all change the world.
When Harald and I started talking we agreed that it had been a great conference but we were concerned that there were no homeless people there – only editors, founders, or directors. How could we involve homeless people in the same international inspiration which we were experiencing?
We came up with various ideas, but they always had barriers like visa issues or employment challenges or language problems. We kept throwing ideas around. There was an international language called football, we concluded. We both loved football, and we knew the potential power it had to involve people.
Some of the street paper sellers in my country—Scotland—played together one night a week in a friendly competition. Harald said his sellers also did the same thing. We threw some ideas around and we eventually agreed that we would have a challenge match between the two street papers. One would represent Scotland and the other would represent Austria. We shook hands on the arrangement. We were both convinced that this would be a great experience for the homeless people who would take part.
Then we drank some more beer and kept on talking. By the end of the night we had invented the Homeless World Cup, where teams from all over the world could represent their country in a week long street soccer tournament. It was a lively and animated conversation and we both imagined a colourful football competition which would change people’s lives.
So, the Homeless World Cup was borne in Cape Town in a bar. But it is sometimes easy to have these type of conversations and have great dreams. The crucial decision was made the next morning at breakfast in our hotel.
We thought that the previous night in the bar had been fabulous but we wondered, should we leave the conversation there or should we make it happen? Let’s do it, we both said. And the first Homeless World Cup took place 18 months later in Graz Austria, in July 2003.