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Catching Up, Part III: Europe
This might be called the "silly season" in football—the recently contested Swamp Soccer World Championships in Hyrynsalmi, Finland, perhaps the prime example—except that much of the competition is not silly at all. An event of global significance, the second Homeless World Cup, concluded today. Italy,

Mrs. Kushida and Yasuharu Kawarada from Big Issue Japan. (Copyright © 2004 Georg Lassacher)
organized by the MultiEtnica 2001 organization and the Terre di Mezzo street paper, defeated the Austrian representative, Team Afghan, 4–0. Team Afghan had reached the event after beating out 16 other Austrian contenders. All eight players are asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iran. Japan (street paper The Big Issue Japan), the tournament's first side from Asia, won the Fair Play Trophy. The eight men competing for Japan sell The Big Issue Japan on the streets of Osaka and Tokyo; they purchase the newspaper for ¥90 per copy and resell it for ¥200 (about $1.80). Team member Yasuharu Kawarada (pictured above) cites his greatest possession as a Hanshin Tigers cap and defines wealth as "being with Jesus Christ."

The third Homeless World Cup is scheduled next summer for New York, with the Ford Foundation providing much of the financial backing. The practical difficulties of organizing the event and of fielding a team are well-chronicled in the New York Daily News (Michael O'Keeffe, "The Game of Life," 11 April) and New York Press (Ron Grunberg, "Street Soccer," 23 June). Both articles discuss the bureaucratic tangles involved in compiling identity and travel documents. Grunberg, the New York team's coach, writes that

[e]ven after several months of planning and twice-weekly practices, after recruiting players at the food lines and in the shelters, with all the interest we'd stirred up—we had just a few bona fide candidates who could play, travel legally and pass the medical tests. But then three new players walked in: two hailing from Peru, the other from Haiti. Not only do they have their papers in order, they're naturals on the grass.

Other complications also crop up, as social worker Zmira Amrani told the Daily News:

"We had a player wind up in the hospital in Austria last year," she says, referring to a homeless New Yorker who came apart emotionally under the pressure of competition. "We want to make sure the players we take to Sweden don't have a history of mental health problems—or if they do, that they are taking their meds."

Renewal in spirit and body, though, has been a more common outcome. Twelve of last year's 141 players are now pursuing a career in football; others have gone back to school or found other jobs. Just competing is an emotional risk. David Tajmas, captain of the Sweden team, said "at first I never wanted to play in the team because I did not want to reveal my [addiction]. But this opportunity has rebuilt my self-confidence" (Simon Reeves, "Homeless WC Finals," footballculture.net).

Other significant football and sport gatherings that have already occurred or that will take place in Europe this summer include the EuroGames 2004 in Munich, a Click for EuroGames 2004 siteproject of the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation (EGLSF); the Global Games in Bollnäs, Sweden, organized by the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID); the Partially Sighted World Championships in Manchester, England, in December; and the Mondiali Antirazzisti, or Anti-racist World Cup, in Montecchio, Italy, organized by Football against Racism in Europe (FARE).

  • Lahti, Finland, and Freetown, Sierra Leone | 27 August 2003 . . . Thirteen players for the Sierra Leone youth team have been "found," several days after they disappeared in Finland following their three games in FIFA's Under-17 World Championship. The players are believed to be seeking political asylum from their war-torn country. In a meandering commentary about the incident, Osman Benk Sankoh writes in the Concord Times of Freetown that the disappearance was to be expected. "[T]his shameful act which will continue to hunt [sic] us for years and years to come has rekindled that negative decade-old past of this country as a nation of gun-toting kids and marauding gangsters. We must, however, doff our hearts to those [players] that braved it back to the impoverished nation, a nation wherein to secure a plate of rice and a pint of coke after waking up in the morning would be like challenging the Mozambican Express Maria Mutola for a marathon dash for Mount Kilimanjaro." | back to top