Home­less World Cup to hon­our mem­ory of late co-founder

Kuwait Times - - Sports -

LON­DON: As more than 500 soc­cer play­ers gather in Mex­ico City next week for the 16th Home­less World Cup, the tour­na­ment will take place against the back­drop of the death last month of its co-founder Har­ald Sch­mied at the age of 50. The Aus­trian, di­ag­nosed two years ago with Amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis (ALS), cre­ated the tour­na­ment with Mel Young al­most 20 years ago to im­prove the lives of im­pov­er­ished peo­ple through the beau­ti­ful game.

The first edi­tion, held in Sch­mied’s home coun­try in Graz in 2003, was won by the hosts and it has been an an­nual event since. More than 40 coun­tries now take part, with 400 games of four-a-side taking place in a week­long foot­ball fes­ti­val which has gar­nered sup­port from Euro­pean soc­cer body UEFA and global pro­fes­sional play­ers’ union FIFpro.

Two com­pe­ti­tions take place, a men’s/mixed event and a women’s pro­gramme, with 48 teams set to com­pete in Mex­ico in the for­mer from Nov. 13-18. How­ever, even with or­gan­is­ers ex­pect­ing 200,000 spec­ta­tors and mil­lions of on­line view­ers, the sadness at Sch­mied’s death will not be far from any­one’s minds.

“He was a lovely per­son and a great friend,” Young told Reuters in an email. “And of course he loved foot­ball. He could see the power it had and he was of­ten quoted when he talked about the high­light of the an­nual event be­ing the look on the play­ers’ faces at the open­ing pa­rade.

“That look of gen­uine hap­pi­ness, of be­ing in­cluded and what life might of­fer. There is al­ways the same great at­mos­phere, same friend­ship and warm-heart­ed­ness,” he said. “If there were more peo­ple like Har­ald around in the world then it would be a much bet­ter place.”

One player ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing kick­off is Marco Chairez, a 23-year-old from Port Townsend, Wash­ing­ton who will play for the United States. “I am so hon­oured to be a part of this amaz­ing pro­gramme that has helped me turn my life around,” Chairez told Reuters.

“Be­cause of or­gan­i­sa­tions like th­ese peo­ple are able to do some­thing in­cred­i­bly pro­duc­tive with their lives. As a home­less youth I know that can be the key to open­ing many doors. “The peo­ple that make th­ese tour­na­ments pos­si­ble need to know that they have cre­ated a pos­i­tive im­pact in my life and in many oth­ers that have suf­fered from home­less­ness.”

HUGE UN­DER­TAK­ING

The good­will in­volved helps fa­cil­i­tate a huge lo­gis­ti­cal un­der­tak­ing. Seventy coun­tries are in­volved with the Home­less World Cup Foun­da­tion and teams are se­lected by na­tional soc­cer ini­tia­tives, which pay for flights to the host city. Tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ers cover the play­ers’ ac­com­mo­da­tion, food and travel costs dur­ing the event. “I hope to go and just have fun, play soc­cer, meet peo­ple, make friends and learn from other play­ers,” Chairez added.

Chairez and his team mates may find it hard go­ing should they play Brazil, the most suc­cess­ful team in the tour­na­ment’s his­tory with three ti­tles. Mex­ico can equal them if they win on home soil - some­thing they failed to do when they last hosted the event in 2012, los­ing 8-5 to Chile in the fi­nal. Of course, no sport­ing event can erad­i­cate the many so­cial in­equal­i­ties around the world, with global hous­ing body Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity es­ti­mat­ing that 1.6 bil­lion peo­ple lack ad­e­quate ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The United Na­tions is still off track in its bid to end ex­treme poverty which cov­ers eight per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. The tar­get is to get an aver­age 1.6 peo­ple es­cap­ing poverty per sec­ond. The cur­rent rate is 1.1. Still, foot­ball of­fers a wel­come respite from the hor­rors of liv­ing on the streets and Young in­sisted that Sch­mied’s legacy be cel­e­brated. “We will miss him for sure but his fi­nal mes­sage was typ­i­cal of Har­ald when he urged peo­ple to turn their sadness into pos­i­tive en­ergy,” he said. —Reuters

Har­ald Sch­mied (sit­ting)

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