The Homeless World Cup ended on Sunday and the Chilean National Team lifted the large, clunky trophy. The win was a comfortable 5-2 for the host team, a comfort unlike the journey the participants took to get there.
Though the Homeless World Cup has gained notoriety over the years and even inspired a documentary narrated by Colin Farrell titled Kicking It, the event hasn't found a way into mainstream media. The importance of the Homeless World Cup, however, does not lie in its recognition; the importance of the social vision plays a greater role.
It was founded by Mel Young and Harald Schmied, two guys that met at a conference on homelessness in 2001. They were united by the idea that it was possible to "change the lives of homeless people through football."x Just two years later, in 2003, the first Homeless World Cup tournament took place in Harald Schmied's home country, Austria.
Today, the event works with 70 national partners and coordinates efforts to help develop life management and soccer skills for displaced people worldwide. The programs aim to be sustainable and expansive, helping individuals in ways not previously offered.
The entire event is about empowerment: an opportunity to better oneself and sense of worth. James Traynor, the goalie for Ireland, exemplifies everything the Homeless World Cup stands to improve. Later battling drug and alcohol addiction for years, James was displaced at the young age of 13. He spent time in jail and often fought his own emotions. "I felt sub-human and honestly, I was sick of feeling sick", he says about his past life.
Through the Irish Street League and strong support of sponsors and counseling, James has been able to turn his life around. "I've been clean for a year and a half and the counseling has kept me strong. I'm 39 years old but I believe that you are never too old to keep learning and go back to studying. I would like to work in psychotherapy after all that it has done for me."
James Traynor, goalie for the Irish team. Photo by Alex Walker
That's why with my social enterprise, Senda Athletics, we partnered with Street Soccer USA's Bay Area affiliate (one of the Homeless World Cup's many partners), to use the beautiful game in a beautiful way. Whether it's lightly organized or on the biggest stage in the world, soccer is a platform for self-worth. The Homeless World Cup might never be as popular or recognized as the FIFA World Cup or the Super Bowl, but that doesn't matter. The recognition that truly matters to the Homeless World Cup is the kind that comes from within, the realization of ones own value.
Northern Ireland taking on Denmark in the Accion Total Cup Finals, courtesy of homelessworldcup.org
That's exactly what the Homeless World Cup does every year. At every tournament, the national partners come together and demonstrate how soccer has the power to change lives. The cities that host the event tend to show improvement in the lives of the citizens as well; the participants have continuously reported that relations with the public have improved.
It's easy to cast negative light on people you don't understand. What we see with the Homeless World Cup is a renaissance of understanding, a powerful tool in the pursuit of individual redemption. Every day, Senda is inspired by the Homeless World Cup and similarly tries to promote social change through the sport. Soccer has provided the homeless what it has provided superstar athletes for years: a means of expression and betterment.
There are goals to reach and goals to score. For the Homeless World Cup, they're one and the same.
Facts and pictures courtesy of homelessworldcup.org