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Gearing Up for the Homeless World Cup
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21 Apr 2010 EST

- by Jorge Vargas, Editor-in-Chief

Rare indeed is the moment when sport comes about as a direct effect of social justice.

Rarer indeed is the moment when people shine through and provide hope that, amidst the madness, the anger, the pettiness, and the outright hatred that is so prevalent in our world, there are people who genuinely care about their fellow humans.

This story will not be summed up as being one of hope, although it could it.  This story, instead, is about a fighting spirit.  After all, when faced with the challenges that we are faced with today, as human beings, would one not rather have a fighting spirit than mere hope?

But, back to the sports.

In 2003, I mentioned to a friend of mine something or other about the Homeless World Cup.  My friend retorted with a witty reply about how my home country (Peru) was probably not in that world cup either - Peru has not qualified for the FIFA World Cup since 1982.  It was a valid quip.

It is now 2010.  The Homeless World Cup, which takes "national" soccer teams composed of homeless soccer players and pits them together in cities around the world, is still in action.  Last year's Homeless World Cup took place in Milan (the champions were the side from the Ukraine) and this year's Homeless World Cup will be staged in Rio de Janeiro's Copa Cabana beach.  

The teams are organized by community organizations such as The Big Issue in the North, in England.  The Big Issue in the North is an English magazine organized and produced by homeless people.  Team England then receives training from Manchester United, one of the official sponsors of the Homeless World Cup, which also counts on Real Madrid and UEFA (Europe's soccer governing body) for support.

Street Soccer USA, which seeks to end homeless in 16 U.S. cities through soccer, is the group that organizes the U.S. men's side at the tournament.

According to the organizers of the Homeless World Cup, 73% of players significantly improve their lives after participating in the event and eventually move off the streets.  The impact of the tournament is growing increasingly global, as 56 nations participated in the tournament in 2009 - only 32 nations participate in the albeit infinitely more competitive FIFA World Cup.      

Participation in the Homeless World Cup is invitation-based.  One of the invited countries is Indonesia, which has thus far not participated in the country.  

Rumah Cemara is an Indonesian-based organization that works with drug users in order to help them over-come their addiction.  As one of their many programs, Rumah Cemara, located in the Indonesian city of Bandung, has a soccer program which, last year, won the national championship, sponsored by Indonesia's National Narcotics Boards, under coach Ginan Koesmayadi, himself an HIV-positive recovering drug user.

It was due to the team's success on the field and due to the program's success in the streets that they were invited to take part in the competition.  The invitation "brought tears of joy" to the staff of Rumah Cemara, according to Kate Otto, Rhode Island native, NYU graduate, and Rumah Cemara organizer, who has been living in Indonesia for several months, doing what she can to help change the situation of Indonesia's homeless.

Now, Rumah Cemara is tasked with the goal of raising $20,000 in order to afford flying one coach, Ginan Koesmayadi, and eight players to the Homeless World Cup in Brazil, which will take place in September of 2010. 

The task is gargantuan but, given Rumah Cemara's track record, the efforts of its dedicated members such as Kate Otto, and the talents of its team and of coach Ginan Koesmayadi, it is attainable.

To donate to their cause, visit to Kate Otto's blog at this link:

In the meantime, we are all left awaiting the Homeless World Cup and wishing the best for all of the players taking part in the tournament, one of the few sporting events that is taking direct action to improve the lot of the global poor and of the one billion homeless people in our world today.

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