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World Cup gives Swiss homeless hope

The Swiss homeless side are hoping for World Cup glory (Surprise)

The Third Homeless World Cup kicks off in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Wednesday, with a Swiss national team.

The street magazine Surprise is sponsoring the eight-strong side, which will be pitted against football players from 26 countries.

Switzerland will net a hat-trick of appearances at this year's event, a competition that has a proven track record of motivating participants to change their lives for the better.

The "Swiss Team" squad have proven their skill, fitness and commitment during a rigorous selection process under the watchful gaze of head coach René Fiechter.

From July 20-24, they will be pitting their wits against some 208 players from 26 other countries, making it the biggest edition of the tournament so far, despite the fact that teams from Cameroon, Burundi, Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia were denied visas by the British authorities.

Last year in Sweden, the Swiss team, playing under the banner of Surprise, managed to record two wins, but also crashed to nine defeats, leaking 104 goals. But team coordinator Tom Wiederkehr emphasised that winning games was not the purpose of the event.

"Every person who takes part in the Homeless World Cup is winning in life," he said. "The tournament gives people the energy to transform their lives, at the very least to reflect and realise that they need to make changes.

Success stories

"They are part of a team and have to work for each other which gives them a new sense of motivation. They also learn to accept the authority of the coach and his rules. Many people who live on the streets forget how to cope with authority figures in their lives."

Two members of last year’s team have found jobs as a cook in a restaurant and on a farm, and a third teammate turned his back on drink after several years of alcoholism.

Of the 204 players in last year’s Homeless World Cup, 92 per cent reported that they had discovered new motivation in their lives, 38 per cent had found employment and 27 per cent had addressed their drug dependency.

"I realised how well we live in Switzerland. The friendship with the team from Namibia, to hear stories about their everyday life, opened my eyes for many things. I see my problems in a different light now," 16-year-old Swiss player Rael Fiechter told the authors of a report commissioned by the organisers.

Only homeless people, asylum seekers without work permits or people who earn most of their income from selling street papers are eligible to take part in the tournament. But things have now moved on since Switzerland was represented at the first two Homeless World Cups by a team of magazine vendors.

World Cup Switzerland 2008?

The organisation in-kick.org – Integration by Sport Switzerland, which was founded in autumn 2004, now coordinates training and selection for the national side from several teams who took part in the first-ever Swiss Homeless Cup this year.

As a result, homeless football in the country has attracted more interest and sponsors that fund in-kick.org’s SFr150,000 ($117,000) annual budget. The organisation has ambitious plans to bring the 2008 Homeless World Cup to Switzerland to coincide with the UEFA European Championship.

But for the moment, the stage belongs to people like Michael Omlin, 32, one of the lucky players to be selected in this year’s "Swiss Team" squad.

"Football distracts me from the difficulties of my daily life. The offer to play for the national team cheers me up and motivates me," he said.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

Edinburgh hosts the third Homeless World Cup, which was first held in Graz in Austria in 2003 and Gothenburg, Sweden a year later.
Around 216 players from a total of 27 countries will take part, making it the biggest Homeless World Cup to date. However, teams from Cameroon, Nigeria, Zambia, Burundi and Kenya were denied visas by the British authorities.
Players must be homeless, asylum seekers without work permits or earn most of their income from selling street papers to qualify for their national teams in this tournament.

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