We spoke to anti-apartheid campaigner Reverend Iain Whyte about his experience at the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town.

In 2006, Cape Town hosted the fourth Homeless World Cup. 48 nations competed for the title, with 496 players representing their countries. Russia lifted the cup. In 6th place was Cameroon, coached by Aaron Agien Nyangkwe and supported by Scottish reverend, anti-apartheid campaigner and newly qualified football coach, Iain Whyte. 

He jokes when asked about his impact as a coach, “I think they would have done better without me!” The one thing he’s proud of is that he convinced the coach to give the reserve goalkeeper some game time. “He will always be able to remember that, I’m pleased I was able to give that to him.” 

That wasn’t the only thing that he gave to the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town, he also invited Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu to visit the tournament. Describing Desmond Tutu, Iain mentioned his “fantastic sense of humour”; “he heard that one of the Scottish lads had fallen in love with a South African girl so made a joke about it.”

Desmond Tutu doing keepy-uppys at the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town, 2006 | Credit: Brenna Bales-Smith / Icon Image

As well as his sense of humour, he knew when to be serious. In Cape Town, Desmond Tutu made a rallying call: “Everyone should have a home. It is a right, not a privilege. People treat the homeless as if they’re sub-human. In order to overcome this discrimination, we have to unite against homelessness as we did when we fought apartheid.” 

The impact of the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town was also felt by the Chief of Police who said crime levels in the city had fallen during the ten-day tournament. According to him, gang leaders told their members that the people at the tournament were helping the homeless and to leave them alone. For those ten days, the Homeless World Cup offered everyone protection, as well as hope.

The most memorable moment for Iain was a phone call, shortly after he had landed in Cape Town. A simple question of what he was doing tonight, led to a peculiar demand. “Please could you pick up Eusebio from the airport?” Iain has the photo of him and the 1965 Ballon d’Or winner on his wall; “he’s kind-of smiling”, he jokes. A surreal memory from a remarkable week. 

Iain Whyte with Eusebio in Cape Town

But the lasting memory Iain took away from Cape Town was an experience of “common humanity”. He explains, it was a tournament with “huge humour which broke down barriers.” From Desmond Tutu to Eusebio to the reserve goalkeeper from Cameroon, there was a sense of togetherness. For ten days in Cape Town, everyone was united, and laughing.