For the first time, two former Homeless World Cup players will be swapping footballs for whistles when they return to the pitch in Amsterdam next month as referees.
The Homeless World Cup launched its own referee programme this year, aiming to offer practical and theoretical training in refereeing its unique style of street football.
One of the new players-turned-referees is 19-year-old Isus, who played for Bulgaria in the Chile 2014 Homeless World Cup.
“Sport has already taught me to respect all, no matter where they come from,” he said. “I decided to do the referee course to develop myself further and learn even more things. If you like the game, you will like this course.”
The first official Homeless World Cup Referee Courses were delivered this year in Sofia, Bulgaria in June, and then in Braga, Portugal in July.
Isus will be joined at this year’s tournament, which runs from 12-19 September, by one of the newly qualified referees from Portugal.
Zakia Moulaoui, Homeless World Cup Director of International Partner Development, said: “You can learn a lot of life skills in refereeing, like self-confidence, public speaking, and conflict resolution.
“The end goal is to give more responsibilities to former players so future Homeless World Cup tournaments are whistled exclusively by former players.”
The Homeless World Cup Referee Course was developed in the Netherlands in partnership with the Dutch FA and the Life Goals Foundation, which helps vulnerable people at the edges of society integrate through sports.
The course is designed to be replicated by Homeless World Cup teams around the world and is specific to Homeless World Cup rules.
It emphasises the behaviour and attitude required of top referees — how to speak to players, how to maintain control and confidence throughout a game, and also how to navigate the smaller pitch used in the international tournament.
Isus will join a dedicated team of experienced referees from around the world who will oversee matches played by 48 men’s/mixed teams and 16 women’s teams.
Among the players travelling to Amsterdam will be a number of vendors who sell street papers supported by INSP in countries including Greece, Switzerland, Mexico and the UK.
Paul Nagtegaal, one of the Homeless World Cup international referees who developed the course, has been impressed by the trainee referees’ talent and commitment to the programme.
He said: “So far, players have really enjoyed taking part. They take pride in their new diplomas and have shown they can be great international referees. As part of the international team of referees, this course is our legacy.”
Check out the teams taking part in the 2015 tournament here.