Homeless World Cup: Addressing Homelessness Through Soccer

Cesar DiazCorrespondent IISeptember 19, 2010

If soccer is considered the global sport, then homelessness must be the global epidemic. The same way we recognize Lionel Messi in his uniform is the same way we would recognize a homeless person seated in a street corner with a sign asking for change.

How does one become homeless? For many of us, we believe homelessness is caused by the poor choices some individuals made in their lives. Those individuals are easier to hold accountable because we can call them out on their substance abuse, criminal past, and employment status.

However, there are homeless people who are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control. Many are were victims of war, natural disasters, forced eviction by the government, lack of employment in their area, and domestic violence.

And then there are children who make up more than half the homeless population worldwide. The reality is that they didn't have a choice when they were born to poverty. Some are also born with disability or mental illness and lack the proper services which can help them.

Interesting enough, while Messi is glorified as a god, a homeless person asking for change may be condemned as the scourge of society. Some of us forget to realize that they're both human. Ironically, the only time we recognize Messi and a homeless person as part of the human race is when they're making a recovery.

For many homeless individuals worldwide, their recovery begins with a soccer ball. Through the power of soccer, these individuals will have the opportunity to turn their lives around. They'll also have the opportunity to show us that it's possible to overcome their substance abuse problems.

Others will have the opportunity to show us that it's never too late to educate yourself, so it'll increase one's chances of employment and residence. Just as important, others will have a chance to inspire us to give back to communities if they chose to become coaches and give back to their communities.

Taking place in Rio de Janiero, Brazil at the Copacabana Beach, 64 national teams will have the opportunity to demonstrate the powerful effects of recovery when they face off against each other from September 19-26, 2010 in the eighth annual Homeless World Cup. 

Founded by world-leading social entrepreneur Mel Young in 2003, the first Homeless World Cup took place in Graz, Austria where 18 national teams competed. Since then, the Homeless World Cup has become an annual event where teams compete against each other in the format of street soccer.

Consisting of eight players total, a team can be all-male, all-female, or co-ed. Each game is 14 minutes long with two seven minute halves. During play, each team can have a maximum of four players (one goalkeeper and three outfielders) with up to four substitutions.

When it's said and done, the purpose of this tournament is to create an awareness for homelessness while giving individuals the opportunity to better themselves. In addition, it gives us the opportunity to want to advocate for a healthy and positive reform where the playing field is leveled. As stated in the website:  

"The Homeless World Cup vision is for a healthy, abundant, confident world where everyone has a home, a basic human need.

We use football as a trigger to inspire and energise people who are homeless to change their own lives. By this approach the Homeless World Cup creates better opportunities for people who are currently homeless and excluded and reduces homelessness on a global level.

We will realise this mission using a combination of a global football tournament and local football initiatives. The first, organised as a world-class event, will gain impact, reputation and media interest, which will encourage funding and promotion of innovative grass-root concepts on a local level."

With that said, homelessness isn't going to be addressed and curbed without our help.  For more information, please go to www.homelessworldcup.org where you learn more about the tournament's history, follow competing teams, and how you can contribute. 

Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for Latino Sports. Please send him your questions and comments to cesar@latinosports.com.