Messi, Ronaldo, Buffon, Greizmann all get to represent their countries, their flags, their people, and culture in the World Cup.
While the World Cup takes place every four years, there is another international soccer tournament that happens annually and features a different kind of star showcasing their skills and representing their flag like the stars– the Homeless World Cup.
After attending a conference about homelessness in 2001, founders Mel Young and Harald Schmied wanted to change the lives of those less fortunate and struggling in society for the better. They found a way to do it with the world’s game.
The first Homeless World Cup took place in Graz, Austria, in 2003 and has grown in popularity and each year finds a different host city.
Other cities around the globe that have hosted the games include Gothenburg, Cape Town, Paris, Mexico City, Rio, Milan, Edinburgh, Santiago, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Melbourne, and Poznan.
The 2017 tournament will take place in Oslo, Norway, in August.
Many first learned about the tournament through the 2008 documentary, Kicking It, which was narrated by Colin Farrell. It followed players from around the world come together in Cape Town, South Africa, to represent their country and themselves.
In order to qualify, the players must have been homeless at some point in the last two years or be receiving drug or alcohol treatment. Males and females ages 16 and older can play in the games.
While these players may not have the recognition like the game’s top stars like Dybala, Lewandowski, Verratti they are playing for a pride that cannot be matched by that of a superstar.
Colin Farrell has become an ambassador for the organization after narrating the documentary and becoming fully vested in the tournament’s mission.
“This is about giving a sense of purpose, inclusion and community through football, and it’s an extraordinary thing to be around. People were thanking me for being here today and, I’m not even joking, I’ve been thanking people for letting me be here because it’s good for my heart just being here,” he said on the tournament’s website.
The In Bruges actor added: “On the one hand it’s all about inclusion and community and about picking yourself up, but it’s also a serious competition. Everyone wants to win and everyone wants to represent themselves to the best of their ability.”
According to the organization: “When a homeless person gets involved in football, they build relationships and become teammates who learn to trust and share.
“They feel that they are part of something larger than themselves. The sense of empowerment that comes from participating in street football helps homeless people see that they can change their lives.”
The game even helps players improve themselves, win or lose, when they return home. Each one of them gets to rebuild meaning back into their lives and purpose.
According to the organization, 94 percent of players say that tournament “has had a positive impact on their lives.”
Scotland captain Toby McKillop, 38, became homeless for 14 months after fighting drug addiction for 20 years. In 2014, he tried to take his own life but the thought of leaving his five-year-old daughter Molly behind stopped him. He was in and out of rehab and nearly died from an overdose.
Through Homeless World Cup national partner Street Soccer Scotland, he got involved in the program.
“The Homeless World Cup has completely changed my life. It’s very hard to explain what it is that the whole experience gives you. Something changes inside. The way you see yourself. You are positive. Everything is now a possibility for you and you know what’s important in life,” he said on their website. “Life, now, is all about building my relationship with Molly. Everything I do now, staying clean and living life, I do it for Molly.”
He isn’t the only story, there are dozens on Homeless World Cup’s site that will make you rethink life and give an example as to why soccer really is “The Beautiful Game.”
Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, another ambassador summed it up: “People make the changes, but football brings people together.”
For more information, please visit HomelessWorldCup.org