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Reaching fever pitch

May 18 2009
Seventeen thousand people are training for this summer‘s Homeless World Cup While those idlers who play in the World Cup only turn up every four years, the tournament for those on the streets is an annual phenomenon, and this year's competition is drawing closer. Seventeen thousand people in 48 teams are currently training hard for this summer's Homeless World Cup in Copenhagen. Organisers believe that this will be the best tournament so far. Mel Young, president of the Homeless World Cup and co-founder of Big Issue Scotland, said new teams were being added to the roster every year. "When we first held the Homeless World Cup in Graz in Austria in 2003, we had 18 teams," he said. Since then, it's had "a major impact on people's lives, and every single player has got some incredible stories to tell." What happened to last year's champions, Russia, after they won the tournament was considered a coup by the organisation. "Russia was able to put on national trials for the first time last year with support from the Homeless World Cup Foundation, and subsequently the media there discussed the issues of homelessness for the first time in a serious manner," said HWC communications director Kat Byles: "Football gave the forum to do that. We fundraise throughout the year to enable further investment into these nations for year-round work." With football providing the reason and the stepping-stone to a truly international get-together, the only problems each team has to tackle are financial. While the Foundation takes care of most of the bureaucratic issues such as visa arrangements for the teams, as well as sorting out accommodation, each country has to raise funds for their year-long training and their tickets to the host country. Depending on the team's country, funding can come from the government, corporations or simple donations from the public, Ms Byles said. Ten countries are appealing for donations in order to cover their team's travel expenses to make it to the Cup. The Foundation has made arrangements to accept online, telephone and postal donations in order to channel the funds raised directly to the teams from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and India. With the proper support, those teams will be able to experience the life-changing effect that the tournament is said to offer. "Eighty per cent of the people who take part in the HWC go on to change their lives, so we have to tell the whole world about this event," said Mr Young. The organisers aim to change the pubic's attitude towards homeless people through the competition. So far, all players have been recognised for their courage and determination and hailed as heroes during the tournament. They also have enjoyed support and further encouragement in transforming their lives afterwards. Some of the more famous supporters of the tournament are Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo, former Beatle Ringo Starr, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson as well as players Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown. The footballers have in the past visited England's HWC squad to offer hints and tips on how the players can improve their style and tactics. "Football is for everyone. Get into the Homeless World Cup. I do," said Ferdinand.