How the Homeless World Cup Has Supported Unhoused Communities Worldwide

Two teams playing a match at the Homeless World Cup © Photo Courtesy of Homeless World Cup/Mile44

By Allie Murray

Sport is a powerful thing—one that is known all too well by Rab Hare, who, before partaking in the Homeless World Cup, was living on the streets of Glasgow.

Hare started his career as a professional soccer player but went into early retirement, not from an injury but a prison sentence. After coming out of prison, he went through a breakup, lost his house and job, and lost three friends to suicide within five months.

He ended up sleeping on the street, in hostels and shelters, when he then discovered the Street Soccer Programme. From that program, he was chosen to represent Scotland at the 2011 Homeless World Cup. 

By 2016, Hare was instrumental in organizing that year’s Homeless World Cup in Glasgow. Then, two years later, in 2018, he returned once again as the coach for Scotland’s Homeless World Cup team.

With the support of the Homeless World Cup, Hare turned his own life around and committed to helping others do the same through soccer, through a program with Street Soccer Scotland implemented in prisons.

“After the 2016 tournament, I continued to take the coaching sessions up at the League at Townhead then, four years ago, funding came in to kick off a prison programme created by Street Soccer,” Hare said. “Obviously I’ve had the experience of being in prison and of homelessness, so I took that post on. Now I travel the country visiting the prisons, delivering education, coaching, and football sessions and help the participants achieve a qualification at the end of it.”

homeless world cup
Rab Hare © Photo Courtesy of Homeless World Cup

The Homeless World Cup held its first tournament in Graz, Austria, in 2003 when an idea sparked for co-founders Mel Young and Harald Schmied. The two were colleagues in the street paper industry—a social initiative that provides unhoused individuals with the means to make an income through newspaper sales.

“I was having a beer with my great friend Harald Schmied, who ran a street paper for homeless people in Graz, Austria,” Young explained. “We had been taking part in the annual conference of the International Network of Street Papers. We sat up late into the night talking about how we could all change the world.”

That very night, the planning for the Homeless World Cup began. They wanted to utilize the power of sport and invite teams worldwide to represent their country. The first tournament occurred 18 months later and featured players from 18 countries. 

The tournament then took place every year up until the pandemic and now features some 70 nations participating annually. In 2023, the Homeless World Cup is returning for the first time since 2019.

“The global pandemic and lockdown has been an incredibly difficult time, it’s left people isolated and the state of the economy has resulted in more people becoming homeless,” Young said. “During the pandemic, many people were living in hostels, weren’t allowed to leave their rooms and communal areas were closed. This is effectively making people feel like they’re in prison when they’re supposed to be in a safe place. How is that fair? Work supporting people who are homeless and socially isolated is more important than ever; we need to remind people that there is a global community who want the best for them.”

Homeless World Cup Co-Founder Mel Young At Opening Ceremony © Alayah Quinn and Mile44

Leading up to the tournament, the Homeless World Cup is building back stronger—dedicated to making the return of the tournament one that will leave behind an even bigger positive impact. 

To do so, they’ve brought on a team of celebrity ambassadors—including actor Michael Sheen, sports activist and co-founder of the Palestinian Women’s National Football Team Honey Thaljieh, actress Cristina Rodlo, and actor Hero Fiennes Tiffin.

“The Homeless World Cup empowers people and changes lives,” Thaljieh said. “Football changed my life and broke down barriers and this special tournament does exactly that, it’s a charity very close to my heart and I’m delighted to be continuing my relationship with the Foundation as a Champion.”

To date, the tournament has hosted more than one million players from around the world, brought in more than 70 member countries, and hosted the tournament in more than 17 major cities. But their work isn’t done yet.

“Given the right opportunity, anyone can shine,” Young said. “Football is a game that you can play anywhere, you don’t need equipment, you don’t even need a pitch. But the main thing we hear time and time again is how playing football gives people the chance to forget, escape their day-to-day life and become part of a community. When you feel completely alone and lost, feeling part of something like a football team can truly be transformational.”

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