A very special South African guest attended Day 2 of the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff.
Referee Fezile Hlophe was on hand to present the inaugural FIFPRO Fair Play Award of 2019 to the Mexican team.
A well known figure in his home country, Hlophe is the youngest professional referee in South Africa and youngest to an officiate an official game, having taken charge of a MultiChoice Diski Challenge match involving Kaizer Chiefs and University of Pretoria at the age of just 17.
It was a feat that was all the more remarkable given the fact Hlophe, who was born and raised in Soweto, was diagnosed with throat cancer aged 14 and underwent two years of chemotherapy.
Hlophe was also on hand to present a preview of Amazon Prime’s original series This Is Football, which launches on 2 August on Prime Video and in which he is featured.
While at the Homeless World Cup, Hlophe has been able to soak up the atmosphere and take in some of the action.
“The Homeless World Cup is an amazing experience for me. It’s a great competition and an amazing environment. It’s all about players from different countries coming together and sharing their culture and different experiences with one another,” he said.
“It’s all about kindness, love, and fair play, and seeing people learn from each other. It’s like one big family. It’s a great experience and something I can take back home and share with people.”
Hlophe would like the tournament to receive more coverage in his native South Africa, and he has been impressed with the South African team competing at this year’s competition.
“I’ve spent some time with them and it’s good to see them demonstrating the wonderful football culture we have in South Africa. I’m very happy for the players.
“I’m very proud of them and grateful to be here.”
And as for his own relationship with football, his rise to prominence within his native country as a top-level referee can explained by one simple fact: how much he loves the beautiful game.
“Football has changed my life. I’ve met new people, travelled to different places, and I’ve done lots of documentaries and interviews in newspapers and magazines in South Africa. And most importantly I’ve been able to learn from other people. It brings a lot of positivity to me.
“Without football it’s hard to think what I’d be doing with my life. I’m living the dream.”
Words: Craig Williams
Images: Mile 44