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Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

'Asylum bid' by football homeless

Afghanistan player Jawad Zahid (C) and teammates celebrate with the trophy after defeating Russia 5-4 in the final of the 2008 Homeless World Cup football tournament, played in Melbourne on 7 December
Afghanistan were the victors in this year's tournament

At least 15 players who participated in the football World Cup for homeless people in Australia are suspected to have applied for asylum.

The Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne, where the tournament was held, said the applicants included players from Afghanistan and Zimbabwe.

But Australia's immigration department would only confirm that 15 participants had applied for "further visas".

At least 15 players went missing after last year's tournament in Denmark.

This was the sixth annual Homeless World Cup, an event that aims to raise awareness of the plight of an estimated one billion homeless people around the world, and to help participants make improvements to their lives.

None of the 400 visas issued to players from 56 teams entered into the event has expired, officials at Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship said.

A spokesman confirmed that 15 applications for further visas to remain in Australia had been received, but said reasons of confidentiality prevented him identifying the type of visas applied for.

'Naive'

Event organisers said they could not confirm the asylum reports.

But the event's executive director, Steve Persson, said he thought it would be "naive not to think that it was a possibility".

"This is an international event and this occurs on all international events, including the Olympics, including the Commonwealth Games, including World Youth Day," he said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

To participate in the Homeless World Cup, players must be currently or recently homeless, an asylum seeker, in drug or alcohol rehabilitation or a street newspaper vendor.

This year's men's event was won by Afghanistan, while Zambia took the inaugural women's cup.



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