The 11th UEFA-backed Homeless World Cup has kicked off at Lake Malta in Poznan, Poland. The competition demonstrates how the power of football can help homeless people change their lives.
UEFA is one of the global partners of the event, which features 64 teams from 50 countries and runs until 18 August. At a specially constructed arena next to Lake Malta, homeless and socially disadvantaged men and women from across the world unite to represent their countries in this unique football tournament and improve their lives forever.
The aim of the street soccer contest is to fight the exclusion suffered by the homeless and to encourage them to seek better futures, while also drawing attention to the problem of homelessness throughout the world.
The Homeless World Cup was founded by Mel Young from Scotland and Harald Schmied from Austria, who came up with the idea at a conference on homelessness in Cape Town in 2001. They believed it was possible to change the lives of homeless people through football. Two years later in 2003, the first edition of the competition took place in Graz, Austria.
The Homeless World Cup supports grassroots football programmes and social enterprise development via a network of some 70 national partners – and celebrates its work by organising this annual football tournament that brings together teams of homeless people from countries around the globe. As part of its social responsibility activities UEFA has backed the Homeless World Cup from the beginning, and the event has grown considerably since its debut in Graz.
The tournament creates an opportunity for players to represent their nation as well as meet and build relationships with homeless people from other countries. It also alters attitudes to homelessness; in all cities where the competition is held, people who are homeless report improved relations with the public.
"Homelessness is a complex and growing global problem," said Young. "The causes are diverse, from lack of affordable housing, refugees fleeing war, floods and famine, health and mental illness, joblessness, substance abuse, addiction and poverty. Homelessness manifests itself in many different ways but the feelings of isolation, exclusion and hopelessness are universal.
"Our research consistently tells us 70% of players change their lives for the better as a result of participating in our football programmes," Young added. "We encourage them into education, to re-engage with family, and introduce them to agencies to help them find stable employment and a roof over their heads."
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