Sunday 21 August 2011

The Homeless World Cup

Starting this afternoon (August 21st) and running for one week, the Homeless World Cup brings together 64 national teams for a street soccer tournament on the Champs de Mars.

Under the watchful eye of a large iron tower and a burning sun, the players - both male and female, some very young, some a little more experienced - began the tournament with energy and great spirit. Some teams clearly seem to be better prepared and more skillful than others, but for once the results here don't seem to be the most important factor.

Pre-match team talk for Argentina

According to the tournament's website, the vast majority of participants, all of whom are homeless and socially marginalised in their countries, "go on to rebuild relationships with family and friends, overcome addictions and find accommodation, education and employment" following their participation in the tournament.

So although the Korean team may have lost their first match 19-0 to a (very well supported!) team from Palestine, they still played the game with a smile and shook hands with their opponents afterwards.

Perhaps the most important of all is the ceremony before the match. As with most other international tournaments, the two teams line up whilst the national anthems are played. For these individuals, who often feel excluded from their societies, it is a powerful and sometimes emotional moment.

Teams have come to Paris from far and wide!

However, it remains a real sporting tournament, and the old rivalries still count. In the women's tournament, the first day saw a true 'classico' - Brazil vs Argentina! It was perhaps the most widely attended match of the day, with as much fervour in the stands as on the pitch. Both teams were impressive, but Brazil ran out winners - on the pitch, and alongside it!

On the Metro after the event I shared a carriage with the Swedish and Palestinian teams, both in full kit. There are not many international tournaments where you can get such proximity to the stars!

The tournament continues until Sunday 28th August, with matches taking place all afternoon on three pitches. You can keep up to date with all the scores on the official website, where you'll also be able to watch most games on video. However, if you are in Paris, make sure you go along and show your support!

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