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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July 2005, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
How can football help the homeless?

By Stephen Robb
BBC News

Craig Douglas of Ireland celebrates at Homeless World Cup
Hoping for home advantage
The third Homeless World Cup is under way in Scotland, but how can playing football help tackle homelessness?

Fast cars, diamond jewellery and sharp suits are symbols of the high-life enjoyed by many professional footballers.

It's a world away from sleeping rough on the streets under a cardboard box.

So why is the sport being used to help the homeless?

The 2005 Homeless World Cup is under way in Edinburgh, where players from five continents share one thing in common - they are all homeless.

The annual event and connected football training schemes transform the lives of thousands of people around the world, say organisers. Involvement can provide people with the motivation and confidence to seek housing and work, and to tackle problems like substance abuse that may be the cause of their homelessness.

Inspiration

"Sport is greatly underestimated as a tool for tackling social exclusion," said Big Issue in Scotland founder Mel Young, who launched the tournament in 2003 with the International Network of Street Papers.

"The Homeless World Cup is the tip of the iceberg - underneath is where the real work is going on."

He said at least 5,000 people worldwide had joined "street soccer" schemes in the run-up to this year's tournament, with many subsequently motivated to tackle drug or alcohol problems, find work or improve their housing situation.

Some were inspired by the possibility of representing their country, others simply by being part of a team or realising how unfit they were, Mr Young said.

People are getting the belief that they can move on and change their lives
Mel Young
Homeless World Cup co-founder
"You could say the projects are like health projects, but if you called it that you wouldn't get anybody involved. You say, 'Would you like to represent your country at football?' everybody wants to get involved."

For those that do go on to participate in the Homeless World Cup, the statistics are impressive.

Of the 204 players in the 2004 tournament, research four months later found 188 (92%) had a new motivation for life; 95 (46%) had improved their housing situation; 78 (38%) had found regular employment; and 70 players (34%) were getting education.

Sixteen players were even signed professionally or semi-professionally in playing or coaching roles by football clubs.

"It's about self-respect. You are playing in an environment where people are applauding, kids are coming up and wanting your autograph, you are appearing on the telly - it changes you as a person," Mr Young said.

"People that are excluded [by homelessness] - it's a barrier, it's psychological. What we are doing is breaking that barrier - people are getting the belief that they can move on and change their lives and that's absolutely critical."

David Duke
Playing in front of thousands of people cheering me on was a great confidence-booster
David Duke
David Duke, 25, of Glasgow, credits the turnaround in his life to playing for Scotland in the 2004 tournament in Sweden.

He is now renting a flat following a year of homelessness, and is assistant coach of this year's Scotland side after earning his youth coaching certificate.

"I was quite down for a while and drinking a wee bit - getting involved in the football knocked the drinking on the head and gave me renewed confidence and self-esteem.

"The fact that I was playing in front of thousands of people cheering me on was a great confidence-booster."

Shelter Scotland director Liz Nicholson said: "This event gives some of the most socially excluded and marginalised members of society a chance to shine - to show they can make a contribution to society.

"Anything that helps to raise both the self-esteem of homeless people, as well as raise awareness of the problems they face, has to be a good thing."




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