More than a game: The story of the Homeless World Cup

This afternoon saw the Bevan Tent within the Homeless World Cup complex packed to the rafters as the public turned out for a special discussion about the tournament and its ethos.

Entitled ‘More than a game: The story of how the Homeless World Cup has helped a million people’, the discussion was chaired by BBC Sport presenter Jason Mohammed and featured a panel including Homeless World Cup co-founder Mel Young, Slum Soccer (Team India) coach Homkat Surandase, international referee Natalie Handley and Team USA manager Lisa Wrightsman.

With all three having their own experiences at the tournament as former players for their respective nations, they shared with the audience their own personal experiences perspectives on how football can change lives.

Wrightsman spoke of her own past of incarceration and alcohol and drug addiction and how, thanks to participating in the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Brazil with Team USA, she was able to turn her life around.

As someone who almost achieved pro status in her home country, seeing players increase their own value of themselves, their self-esteem, and their confidence ‘without the wins’ was something completely new to her as a footballer, and had such a profound effect on her that she returned home and decided to set up a programme in her native Sacramento.

As she told the audience, “I built my career off of the feelings I had in the seven days I was a part of Team USA at the competition.”

Surandase shared his experience of living on the streets in India and becoming part of his street soccer project and as part of the Homeless World Cup team chosen to represent his country back in 2008. He spoke of how his participation in the event encouraged him to come out of his shell, learn English to communicate, and ultimately begin a coaching role. As he told the audience, “language was not a barrier” to him in achieving his dreams.

While international referee and native of Wales Handley spoke about her participation at the 2014 event in Chile, and how her inclusion in the Welsh street soccer project helped her with her recovery from self-harm and drinking. She detailed how she took a course to become a referee at the Homeless World Cup in Oslo, before returning in Mexico last year and Cardiff this year, and how she recently earned her qualifications as an 11-a-side referee.

All three were regarded as ‘advocates of humanity’ by Mel Young, who also told the audience how they were perfect examples of how the Homeless World Cup foundation aims to put people who are or have been part of it at the centre of leadership positions.

Young spoke about the history of the tournament and the journey from its beginnings back in 2001 in Austrian city of Graz, which featured 18 countries competing on one street surface pitch. As Young told the audience, “Football is just his simple game that everyone understands and we create change through it. It’s very simple.”

Words: Craig Williams
Images: Mile 44