Saturday, March 22, 2008

Homeless World Cup

Ambassador for the Homeless World Cup and Manchester United soccer legend Eric Cantona shows off skills in Copenhagen at the 2007 cup. One of the premier homeless soccer programs is currently based in Charlotte, N.C.

An international soccer tournament featuring teams made up entirely of homeless people? Why not? Go ahead and get your tasteless jokes out of the way: say, teams getting a jump on their opponents by throwing change into the air at key points during the match, goalies drinking Listerine to stay focused, etc. But, the Homeless World Cup is no joke. Now in its fifth year, the event hosts up to eighteen countries, including the United States.

Scotland took the 2007 cup in Copenhagen, Denmark last summer and seeks to defend its title in Melbourne’s Federation Square later this year. Team USA is currently ranked 36 in the world and is training for a top 25 finish in Australia.

One of the premier homeless soccer programs is currently based in Charlotte, N.C. Street Soccer USA organizes the U.S. National Cup and is the U.S. representative to the Homeless World Cup. Street Soccer USA describes itself as currently incubated within the Street Soccer 945 program at the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte. It claims to be the first and only year-round soccer program for the homeless in the U.S.

Street Soccer 945 is currently preparing for the Homeless U.S.A. Cup in Washington, D.C. in June. About 100 players from 16 teams are expected to attend. The winning team from this tournament will play in the 2008 Homeless World Cup.

Street Soccer has been described as a “mini-version” of soccer that is played on a tennis court sized field, usually comprised of concrete or another type of hard surface. Four players compete on each side—with one goalie and three players on the field—during each 15-minute game. Proponents of the league say 73 percent of players change their lives for the better after participating in street soccer leagues and benefit from the physical exercise and positive social experience.

Competition in Melbourne promises to be as stiff as ninth month old beard and there are no guarantees in this years cup …except for one: Federation Square will definitely be the place to be for street soccer fans.

-Pat Jablonski

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