Voices Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - 05:30
Rohit Kumar  The rules of this World Cup are simple. Two halves of seven minutes each with a minute long break in between. A 22 meters long and 16 meters wide pitch. A team of all male, all female or both mixed consisting total eight players of which a maximum of four (three plus one keeper) would play the game at a given moment. The players must be at least 16 years old and cannot participate in more than one edition of the tournament. Most importantly, the players must have been homeless at some point in the past year. Starting October 19, 63 teams from 49 nations will compete in the 12th edition of the Homeless World Cup in Santiago, Chile. For the next eight days Santiago will be the home to some 500 homeless and socially disadvantaged people from across the globe. The idea of this annual affair was conceived by Mel Young and Harald Schmied during a conference in 2001 and the event first took place in Graz, Austria in 2003. The tournament seeks to use the power of football “to energise homeless people so they can change their own lives.” In addition, the Homeless World Cup partners with 70 other organisations (which use football to improve the lives of homeless and disadvantaged) working in 420 different cities across continents, and assist build capacity and develop sustainable programs which would have positive impacts on the lives of millions. The tournament also celebrates the year-round endeavours of these partner organisations in creating socially and psychologically benefiting effects on the lives of homeless and excluded they engage themselves with. In India, it partners with Nagpur (Maharashtra) based Slum Soccer. Slum Soccer, while promoting football at the grassroots, uses football to “equip the underprivileged to deal with and emerge from the disadvantages riding on the back of their homelessness.” Apart from the homeless, different initiatives of Slum Soccer has sought to empower and integrate people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, children of commercial sex workers, slum dwelling children and youth, street paper vendors and the likes into the mainstream. Slum Soccer conducts similar tournaments at local, district, regional, state and national levels in India. The players to represent India at the Homeless World Cup are selected from these tournaments. The use of sport to address issues such as education, poverty, gender, discrimination, social exclusion/inclusion, violent and non-violent conflicts, post-war and/or disaster trauma, integration of marginalised groups, juvenile delinquency, employability etc. has gained widespread significance and reputation in last two decades. This phenomenon is commonly known as sports-for-development-and-peace (SDP). Global experiences highlight SDP as a cost-effective means to attain targeted ends of development. SDP works on the ‘bottom-up’ approach while dealing with a challenge. To impart a behavioural change or to change a certain aspect of something affecting the people locally, as Dr. Abhijeet Barse, CEO, Slumsoccer, puts it, they try to build a consensus within the group and educate them to a level where they work towards bringing the change themselves. SDP seeks social improvement and empowerment of the most vulnerable and lays emphasis on the change coming from within. Playing teaches essential life-skills such as communication, team-work, cooperation, inclusion, tolerance, discipline, how to handle conflicting situations, and boosts self-confidence, self-esteem and creativity among others. All this helps in changing one’s attitude on the fields, which in turn is reflected in a changed attitude off the fields. 94% of total participants have a new motivation for their life and some 83% have shown significant improvement in their social relations, the Homeless World Cup’s assessment proudly claims. Sport is healthy. It could lift the general health at nominal expense. This is why it has become a cherished tool to counter non-communicable diseases and alcohol/substance abuse, especially for people living in poor(er) conditions.  We play for the sheer joy playing gives. The fun one receives is beyond the arithmetic of wins or defeats. Playing helps gain control of our body, and hence our life. People who have been excluded since forever, being the part of a team give them a sense of belonging, a feeling that they are needed. This alone has the potential to motivate many in initiating a self-driven endeavour towards a (positive) change. Once this is achieved, the same “insignificant” person becomes an agent of change, the catalyst to a sustained effort, a local hero with whom the community could identify itself, in bringing more people out of disadvantageous situations. So far, the Slum Soccer has positively influenced the lives of nearly 70,000 men, women and children in over 63 districts of the country. And under its guidance, India has consistently better its performance at the Homeless World Cup.  Sport is a wonderfully creative, cost-effective and an amusing tool at our disposal to improve and develop our society. At the same time, it is a great teacher which imparts problem solving abilities with much ease. A ball has great potential to make a difference. All we have to do is, let it roll. (Images Courtesy: Slum Soccer) Rohit Kumar holds a Masters in Peace & Conflict Studies and is a research scholar at Jamia Millia University, New Delhi. His research interest includes studying the intersection between sports and politics/society and blogs on the issues at s4dp.wordpress.com

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