Now in its sixth year, the Homeless World Cup comes to Milan, Italy, in September, bringing together teams of homeless people from at least 56 countries to compete for a unique world championship title.
The real prize, however, is winning the game of life — something fans worldwide are lining up to support.
Rio de Janeiro and Paris have already agreed to host the 2010 and 2011 games, notes Happy News, while Poland.com boasts that the city of Poznan will host in 2013, beating out Amsterdam and Manchester.
Women from eight nations competed for the first-ever Women’s Cup last year — and are taking their game, and their goals for better lives, to Milan in 2009 as well.
One such player is Auma Okot of Uganda, who was once in the grip of the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency.
Okot wants to be a nurse, but in the meantime, she’ll be representing Uganda in the Women’s Homeless Cup, the Guardian reported.
In the United States, homeless soccer appears to be more of a male phenomenon.
Street Soccer USA began in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2005, and now has teams in 16 cities, including New York and San Francisco.
In at least five cities, playing soccer has helped those on the team leave homelessness behind, reports the Korea Times.
This emphasis on personal growth has inspired support for the teams and players around the globe.
In Durham, Britain, local fundraisers are rallying to send a formerly homeless teen to Milan to play for the men’s team, according to the community news Web site 24dash.com.
A developer in Canada, who was homeless decades ago, bought uniforms and airline tickets for the homeless street-soccer national champions when they traveled to Toronto to defend their title, reports MetroNews.ca.
The Homeless World Cup Web site claims that nearly three out of four of those who get involved with homeless teams end up kicking drugs ad alcohol, getting jobs, going back to school and even becoming players and coaches for professional or semi-professional soccer teams.
“Ugandan women given gender inequality the boot”
The Guardian, June 2, 2009
“A formerly homeless teenager from the north east follows in Beckham’s football footsteps”
24dash.com, June 23, 2009
“Rio and Paris win 2010 and 2011 homeless bids”
Happynews.com, June 3, 2009
“Homeless soccer champs to defend title”
Metro News.Ca (Canada), June 17, 2009
“Poland will organize football world championship for homeless”
News at Poland.com, June 12, 2009
“On the soccer fields steps to a new life”
Korea Times, June 3, 2009