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BOB'S BLOG Bidini’s book offers background on Homeless World Cup starting Aug. 10

By Bob Wood
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August 06, 2013 - 44 comments

The Homeless World Cup is coming up Aug. 10 to Aug. 18 in Poznan, Poland.

According to the organizers, this event “uses the power of football to energize homeless people so they can change their own lives.”

I must say I didn’t know much about this event until a couple of years ago when I read and wrote about Dave Bidini’s book Home and Away: In Search of Dreams at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer (Greystone Press).

Some of you will know Bidini as a musician and a member of the Rheostatics, a Juno-winning rock band that was active for more than 25 years. Others will know his hockey books.

Bidini was invited to cover the 2008 World Cup in Australia and, even though he hasn’t heard of it, accepts.

Mel Young, a Scotsman, and Austrian Harald Schmied dreamed up the idea for the event while attending a conference dealing with the future of street newspapers in Austria in 2003. It is a different game than the soccer we know. Played four players a side on 16 metre by 22 metre court, the game lasts 14 minutes (two seven-minute halves.) A three-on-two rule intended to promote scoring has evolved so that only two players are allowed in their own defensive end.

(Here is some video from last year’s event in Mexico)

The Australian event featured about 600 players from 54 nations. It would have been even larger except individuals from some countries were refused entry because of criminal records. That’s just one barrier that organizers had to cope with in organizing the World Cup.

A Canadian team that included 18-year-old “runaway” Krystal Bell and 45-year-old Billy Pagonis is Bidini’s focus. Billy is a former soccer pro who once played for Canada’s national team.

In addition to these two, the author weaves in stories of players from around the world and their unique encounters with homelessness.

In India, for example, the development of the sport, called slum soccer, is inhibited by regional divides and the caste system.

The Cambodia squad was made up of three players who were born and still lived in the dumps of Phnom Penh at the time of the tournament. The team had to cope with interference from government officials who tried to select players to the team in return for favours from well-to-do citizens.

What’s great about this thoughtful book is the author’s ability to challenge our stereotypes of homelessness.

Yes, there are those suffering “the ravages of addiction” and needing anger-management courses. But there are also “21st-century homeless figures” like Canadian player Jerry, a seat-cushion salesman “mentally sound, with no addiction issues, but he’d been thrown to the mat after making the wrong choices in a capitalist society that encourages risk.”

The Homeless World Cup is more than just an annual football tournament. It supports grassroots football programs and social-enterprise development via a network of 70 national partners and celebrates its work by organizing that unites teams of homeless people from countries all around the globe.

This year’s event in Poland features 64 nations. Find out more HERE.

Bob Wood is a housing and poverty advocate and former two-term Burlington City Councillor who has built a bed-and-breakfast with his wife on Lake Erie. 

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