The Homeless Football World Cup Is Kicking Off in Cardiff This Weekend
The tournament is played by people experiencing homelessness all over the world.
July has been a great month for sport. First there was the buzz of the women’s World Cup; then the England win at the cricket World Cup; and of course everyone's favourite summer spectator sport, Wimbledon.
On Saturday, another international competition kicks off on home turf — but it's one you might not have heard of.
The Homeless World Cup kicks off this weekend and Cardiff is this year’s host city. The extraordinary event will see about 500 players from 48 countries, all with recent or current experience of homelessness.
The aim of the contest is to inspire people experiencing homelessness to train for it, and benefit from the pyschological boost of participating in sport. By touring the world, the competition also helps change public perceptions about homelessness too.
This is the 17th annual event, after it launched in 2003 with 18 teams. Previous cities to host the competition include Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Melbourne, Australia.
Mel Young, the co-founder of Big Issue Scotland, and Harald Schmied, a journalist working on a similar magazine in Austria, came up with the idea during a conference back in 2001.
Young told the BBC that while the attendees at the conference had gathered to discuss homelessess and were all involved in producing magazines sold on the street, none of them had direct experience of it.
"Myself and another of the editors Harald Schmied were having a beer and saying how good the conference was but there were no homeless people there," Young said. "We came up with this idea where homeless people would be involved.”
They decided that an international football tournament was the way forward because of the powerful impact football can have, and because it would be straightforward to get people to play. Just two years later they had put their idea into practice.
Now the event is organised by the Homeless World Cup Foundation based in Edinburgh, and has a network of 70 worldwide partners. Most importantly, the games have had a life-changing impact on players.
"Some 80% of the players — after our event — have changed their lives forever: come off drugs, got houses, got jobs, gone to college. It's very impactful and that's what drives us," Young said. "Crucially for us, although it's a great football event and football pulls us together, it's the end of a journey."
Three-time winners Mexico and current champions will be returning to the tournament this year with their men’s and women’s team.— Homeless World Cup (@homelesswrldcup) July 22, 2019
Will they keep hold of the top spot? 🇲🇽#Cardiff2019HWC#Mexico#MwyNaGem#MoreThanAGamepic.twitter.com/rfVk0DIJlp
Last year the Homeless World Cup took place in Mexico City and attracted 160,000 spectators over the course of the week. Actor Michael Sheen put together the bid for Cardiff to host this year, and previous events have been held in Glasgow and Edinburgh in the UK.
The players play in either mens/mixed teams or women’s teams and play in short 4-a-side matches.
In the first stage each team plays the others to determine their group. Then each team plays the others in their group, and the first and second teams from that stage go on to play for the first highest trophy. Those who finish third or fourth play for the next highest trophy, and so on.
At the trophy stage eight teams play for each trophy. With quarter-final, semi-finals, and finals.
England football fans are used to heartbreak and sadly, England hasn’t won the tournament in its 17-year history (but has been runner-up!) Dominating the competition in the last few years have been Mexico and Brazil, with Mexico being the reigning champions.
But you never know. If you're looking for a football fix head to Cardiff’s beautiful Bute Park setting between Saturday July 27 and Saturday Aug. 3 to watch this year’s event and give the teams a well-earned cheer! Follow the matches online at #Cardiff2019HWC.