Each year, Homeless World Cup leaders and a network of global street football (soccer for Americans) partners select more than 500 players to compete in the annual Homeless World Cup tournament. A total of 94 percent of participants in the annual event indicate it positively impacts their lives in permanent ways. The 2016 Cup was held July 10-16 in Glasgow.
Some 100,000 spectators were expected to visit the Homeless World Cup during the week-long festival. In total, 64 teams, representing 52 countries, competed this year. George Square in Glasgow was converted into an outdoor street football venue for the event. Entry is free, with no tickets required.
Now in its 14th year, this tournament became established just as professional football in Europe began to cater more to teams of broader financial support, according to The Guardian.
The players' stories cite life challenges, such as estrangement, workplace accidents, drug addiction, slums, social isolation, poverty, gender stereotypes, alcoholism and garbage dump scavenging. Volunteers and supporters for the event indicate the Cup inspires people to change their life for the better.
One such player was Salvador, who participated in a previous Mexico team. When he was just 15 years old, he lost his mother. The resulting grief and lack of family support caused him to develop drug addiction, which led him to spend seven years living on the streets. The turning point was a near-death experience caused by the drugs, he said. "It was then that I found religion and started believing in God, which has given me the strength to become clean."
Through religion, he also met his girlfriend and he credits her with helping him turn his life around. Football through the Cup program also was a linchpin for his rehabilitation. "Suddenly, everything started to improve. I started changing the way I think and the way I live."
One of the 2016 players, Irish Street League goalie John Farrell admitted he just hit rock bottom before in his life of heroin drug addiction. "I remember sitting in the truck trailer I was sleeping in and praying to God, please just either don't let me wake up, or if I do, give me one tiny bit of strength and I'll run with it. I woke up the next morning and there was something different in me."
Farrell now works with other young people going through homelessness and addiction, teaching them skills such as copper engraving through Crosscares homeless services.
Homeless World Cup Co-Founder and President Mel Young said there are 100 million people homeless globally. His message to people always is: "Do small things. If we all do something small, we'll change the world."