Friday, November 18, 2011

Blogathon: Changing Lives

The blogathon draws ever closer. Just 24 hours away. So I'm delighted to welcome Mel Young, co-founder and President of the Homeless World Cup, to explain why he's convinced that football can change the world.

First of all, I’d really like to thank Tom for organizing the Blogathon and allowing the Homeless World Cup to be one of the beneficiaries. Tom has always supported the Homeless World Cup and we are extremely grateful for his time and commitment.

According to the United Nations there are one billion people who are homeless in the world. This is a mind boggling statistic and one which leaves most human beings numb. What on earth can one human being do to solve such an enormous problem? Naturally our brains just shut down because we just can’t comprehend the massive scale of the challenge.

But the answer is simple. If we all did something – no matter how small – then we can change the world. Tiny steps can create tidal waves. So, it is important that we all try and do something. Writing a blog, for example, might appear to be something very small which might not change anything, but this would be wrong. People read blogs and respond and these are passed on. One homeless person could read the blog and be inspired and change their life accordingly. Taking small positive steps can release huge energy.

It was in this way that we invented the Homeless World Cup way back in 2001. I was talking with my friend and colleague, Harald Schmied from Austria, over a beer about how we could get homeless people more involved. We talked about various ideas but there were always barriers and problems associated with them. Then we thought about football. We both loved football and we knew the power it had. Harald had played a bit and I, well, supported Hibs! We created the Homeless World Cup over a beer and then held the first annual event in 2003 in Graz in Austria with 18 countries taking part.

We chose football because it is simple to understand. Anyone can play, no matter how good or bad they might be. You can create any game you like – 2 a side or 20 a side – and you can play anywhere. All you need is a ball. And it is an international language – everybody understands and this means you can play even if you can’t speak the same language. It is inclusive. So, throughout the world, homeless people turn up to training sessions and begin to kick a ball around. Nowadays, we operate in over 70 countries.

Each year we have annual tournament. This year it was held in Paris and last year it took place in Rio. Next Year it will be held in Mexico City. In Paris this year, we had 64 nations taking part. Scotland won the Homeless World Cup and Kenya won the women’s trophy. In the 12 months leading up to the event, an estimated 50,000 homeless people took part in the associated programmes across the world. The annual event is the culmination of all the work which goes on throughout the year across the globe. It is a moment to celebrate and show the world how football can change people’s lives forever.

Our aim is all about impact. Our research shows that nearly 80% of the people involved change their lives – get jobs and houses; come off drugs and alcohol; go to college and get coaching certificates and improve their lives generally. Homelessness destroys self-respect and self esteem – playing football gives them it back. As long as these numbers of people keep changing their lives as a result of playing football then the harder we will work to make sure that the year round activity throughout the world is effective.

But we can’t do this on our own. We have proved that by making simple steps like kicking a football, we can change the world. Much more needs to be done and we are incredibly grateful for any support which people can give to us. Tiny contributions can make a massive difference. If we give, then we are rewarded – that reward will be a much fairer and safer world where homelessness is only ever read about in history books.

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011