A World Cup with a different goal

The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil began on June 12, and it’s difficult for anyone to ignore the excitement surrounding the event as friends and neighbors rally around their favorite teams and players.

The major fandom occurring over the sport of soccer — or football as it’s known in most of the world — can offer people a sense of community and belonging they might not have otherwise.

Besides FIFA’s, there is another “World Cup” which seeks to provide this sense of community for a demographic of people often overlooked — the homeless.

The Homeless World Cup is an international football tournament that uses, as their website says, “the power of football to energize homeless people so they can change their own lives.”

The organization does this through coordinating and supporting its network of 70 international partner organizations, which lead programs in soccer and management skills throughout the world.

These national partners, as they’re called, provide homeless men and women with the tools they need to succeed, such as the professional services of education, employment, health and legal advice.

Homeless World Cup believes that giving people a community and activity can give them a new outlook on life and empower them to make changes in their lives.  

“When a homeless person gets involved in football, they communicate and build relationships with others,” the website states. “They become teammates, learning to trust and share; they have a responsibility to attend training sessions and games, to be on time and prepared to participate. They feel part of something.”

The organization’s national partners also — through various tournaments and trials throughout the year — choose the eight men and women who will represent them at the annual Homeless World Cup tournament.

“In life, you have to fight, to train, to strive in order to obtain important results,” Pope Francis said in a video message for the start of the World Cup on June 12. Sportsmanship “becomes an image of the necessary sacrifices in order to grow in the virtues that build the character of a person.”

Many of the national partners are especially committed to helping women and girls. In Northern Uganda, there is a charity initiative called Girls Kick It, which “provides training, coaching opportunities and funds for international travel to tournaments for about 250 girls and young mothers.”

The program’s organizers work with the local communities to gain support and participation — the men and boys often stepping in to help provide childcare during tournaments or practices.

One of the first to sign up for Girls Kick It, Sarah’s life has been greatly impacted by the program. Orphaned at the age of 12 when her parents died of AIDS, Sarah was completely responsible for her younger siblings.

“Playing soccer makes me feel happy and healthy. It has also built my confidence and given me faith that I am able to do the things I thought I couldn’t do,” she said.

As part of Girls Kick It, Sarah received a scholarship so that she could finish high school and is now studying nursing at a university.

The 2014 Homeless World Cup is scheduled to occur October 19-26 in Santiago, Chile.

Soccer “is not only a form of entertainment, but also — and above all, I would say — a tool to communicate values, promote the good of the human person and help build a more peaceful and fraternal society,” Pope Francis said.

I think that’s something we can all root for.

Hannah M. Brockhaus is an intern for OSV Newsweekly.