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Kiwi homeless soccer team kicks off

By Cory Miller

Anthony Bradshaw is one of the players selected for the NZ team heading to Melboure in December forthe Homeless World Cup.

Photo by Michael Bradley, courtesy of Sunday Star Times.

New Zealand’s first homeless soccer team is preparing for its debut on the international playing field. It is to take part the Homeless World Cup’s 6th annual tournament, which takes place in Melbourne over the week starting December 1st.

The international soccer tournament for homeless people has been running for the past five years with teams from 50 to 60 countries participating. In a world where there are one billion homeless people, the Homeless World Cup uses soccer as a trigger that can inspire and empower homeless people to change their own lives.

The tournament gets people involved in sport in order to increase self-confidence and provide structure to their lives. It also aims to raise the profile of homelessness and poverty worldwide.

Wellington-based Street Football Aotearoa instigated the initiative to enter a New Zealand team in this year’s tournament and it is now working in conjunction with LIFEWISE in Auckland to train a team.

Players for the New Zealand team were chosen based on their skills, the potential benefits that they might gain, and their level of commitment to the team.

The team is made up of eight players, five from Auckland and three from Wellington. Organisers say working together as part of a team has had an impact on many aspects of the players’ lives. It has built friendships, improved family relationships and promoted education.

Steve McLuckie of LIFEWISE coaches the Auckland players. Steve says for many of the players simply being part of a team has a positive impact upon their lives.

"Many have low self-confidence and feel unwanted by society. The tournament has the potential to be positively transforming. It creates a situation where they will be cheered on by millions of people, and gain a sense of worthiness and a boost to their morale.

"The team is made up of a diverse range of players with their own stories to tell. Despite their differences they work together as a team and they are generating a newfound kinship between themselves. Their goal as a team is simply to bask in the overseas experience and the challenge that participating in a sporting tournament will provide."

Steve says evidence from past tournaments shows that taking part does have a positive impact on the lives of many participants.

"More than 70 percent of those who went to the world cup felt there was a significant positive impact on their lives. Many of those who participate in the tournament go on to re-enter the workforce or education, and start new lives for themselves."

He hopes that players in the New Zealand team will have the same positive and life-changing experience. Through the Homeless World cup every one of them will belong to a team, enjoy the challenge of competition, and regain a positive attitude toward themselves and their lives.