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Coming-of-age Homeless World Cup

Thu, Nov 1, 2012

Philippines celebrate their result, Sunday, October 14. Photo: Danielle Batist

From the sixth floor balcony café on the south side of the Zócalo square, the pitches look impressive. Two bright green playing fields with large stands to fit a thousand people, behind that two full sized training pitches. To the left, a big media center and a massive players home with table tennis and table football areas, lounge seats, dressing rooms and a fully equipped medical centre with X-ray machine. But the real pride of the event is the main pitch. Surrounded on four sides by huge sun-roofed 3,000 capacity stands and a VIP-area with private butlers, the arena is fit for the world’s superstars. Incidentally, there are some 450 of them around.

Never before did the Homeless World Cup attract so much attention. In the opening weekend alone, over 50,000 spectators cheer on the players; the figure is known because of the plenty event staff present with clickers at each entry and exit point. Thousands more watch online via the live streams from each of the three pitches, which even include highlights and professional match commentary. Teams are greeted by dozens of fans as soon as they come off the pitch. Mothers place their children in the arms of players for a photo, teenage girls want signatures of all the men’s teams and even police staff stop their professional duties for a minute to have their picture taken when players walk past.

The participants, of course, are loving it. Over the years, almost all players I have interviewed talk about the stigma against them in their home country, and how hard it is to shake off. During every tournament, the crowd’s reaction boosts players’ confidence, but the sheer volume of this year’s audience overwhelms even the most cool and level-headed ones.

“It is very intense. I don’t speak Spanish but everyone smiles and cheers. They make you feel really popular,” says 21-year-old Dutch women’s team player Sterre Overvest. Namibian Rabiano Blokstaan (19), who lives in the largest slum of the capital Windhoek, agrees: “I feel like a star. It is crazy. We can hardly walk from the hotel to the pitch, so many people want my picture and my signature. I am thrilled. It is very different in Windhoek where I live. There, nobody cares about you.”

The 10th Homeless World Cup has delivered in many ways. Players were better looked after than ever before. Buses and taxis were waiting for them at the airport to bring them all to luxury hotels with breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets included. After covering five editions of the event for different media, the first question from editors still almost always is: ‘And where do all these homeless people sleep all week?’ My answer- depending on the year- has varied from youth hostels to university dorms to a tent camp at an army base. I never thought I’d respond by listing five-star hotel chains.

Written by Danielle Batist, INSP

StreetWise magazine is proud to provide WorldWise content republished by the International Network of Street Papers’ independent Street News Service. This service features stories submitted by the 100+ street papers around the world in an effort to raise awareness for homelessness and bring a voice to the underserved.

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