As the Homeless World Cup comes to Wales, the country’s players finally receive recognition

This weekend (Saturday 27 July) marks the beginning of this year’s Homeless World Cup tournament, to be held at Bute Park in Cardiff.

The 17th annual edition of the competition will see more than 500 players, from 50 countries, descend upon the Welsh capital to meet like-minded individuals from far flung places who share similar experiences. Created to bring together the lives of people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion – those who are thought to be on the fringes of society – the Homeless World Cup is a chance for its participants to bond over the transformative power of sport.

Homeless World Cup players may not always be held in as high esteem as the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or the rest of world football’s stars, but yesterday, the Welsh team’s representatives from this year, and tournaments gone-by, received an honour that brings them, at least, competitive equality with professional international soccer players.

At a ceremony at Dragon Park, Newport, where Wales is developing its next crop of athletes to join the hallowed elites of Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs and their peers, 100 Welsh Homeless World Cup players, both men and women, received official caps for representing their country in sport. It was the first time in the event’s history that a host country had bestowed the honour upon it’s Homeless World Cup players.

This year's captain of the Wales Homeless World Cup women's team, Reanna Walker, receiving her official cap

Keri Harris, director of Street Football Wales, the organisation behind Welsh programmes to aid social inclusion through sport and which selected the squads who will compete at the imminent tournament, said: “Today was all about pride and respect. To watch these players receive official international caps for playing for their country was truly the realisation of a dream. It’s been a long time coming but these special men and women deserve their moment. I was beaming from ear to ear throughout.”

Actor and activist Michael Sheen, who was integral in bringing the competition to Wales, added: “These men and women may have experienced homelessness and social exclusion at some point in their lives, and many are still dealing with these issues, however, nothing can ever take away from the fact that, unlike most of us, they have represented their country on the international stage, and that is something that they should be very proud of.”

Lee Jones, a former captain of the Welsh Homeless World Cup team in 2003 and 2004, said: “I never expected to receive a cap myself, but I always dreamt that players after me would be given one. Seeing all of the players who have proudly represented Wales be recognised today was very emotional, and it’s amazing to see how the tournament has impacted their lives over the past 16 years.”

INSP is proud to be able to attend this year’s tournament, as it did three years ago when it was hosted in our home city of Glasgow. As was commented on at this year’s Global Street Paper Summit in Hannover by Mel Young, a co-founder of both INSP and the Homeless World Cup, the event is “a baby of INSP”, having been conceived at the 2001 Summit in Cape Town.

Participants at the 2016 Homeless World Cup held in Glasgow.

Follow along with INSP at the Homeless World Cup on Twitter.

If you think there is a particular team or player at this year’s tournament we should speak to, perhaps a representative of your local street paper, let us know!