“There an estimated one billion homeless people in the world”, states the opening of the film Kicking It, a 2008 documentary by Susan Koch and Jeff Werner. The film documents the 4th Annual Homeless World Cup, massive football (soccer) event that takes place in Cape Town, South Africa. Teams from all over the globe are selected from participating shelters and support programs that use sports as a way to get homeless people off drugs and feeling better about themselves and their lives.
The film follows 6 players from different countries: Damien, 23, Ireland – Alex, 29, Kenya – Jesus, 62, Spain – Craig, 19, USA – Slava, 27, Russia, and Najib, 23, Afghanistan. Each person has a different story to tell regarding how they came to be homeless, shattering many stereotypes. Yes, there are some pasts that have drug and alcohol problems, but there are also stories of childhood abandonment and being driven out of your home in a war torn country. Even though the ages and histories of the players are so different, they’re all there for similar reasons. Each of them wants to be a better person and create a brighter future for himself. Each has something to prove to himself as well as their fellow citizens.
The Russian team is determined to win to draw attention to the homeless situation in their country. Apparently the issue there is so taboo that it is never discussed, even on a political level, and there is no one to help the homeless improve their lives. The Kenyan team wants to prove that they’re good enough players to compete, as there had never been a Kenyan team in the actual World Cup. Alex comes from a village that is so poor that they don’t even have a pitch where kids could clean to properly play soccer – until the community comes together to build one with Alex leading the way.
The most important aspects of the Homeless World Cup are rebuilding confidence and community amongst a group that is constantly made to feel lowly and that there’s no place they belong. As Mel Young, co-founder of the HWC says, “Homeless people generally have low self esteem and feel isolated. When they’re on a team they start to build. When they come to the world cup, they can stand proud.” He believes football can solve major world problems. Since the whole world plays soccer, perhaps playing together can create a better world.
By the end of the HWC, over 2/3 of its participants have improved their lives for the better, by getting off drugs, getting jobs or finding a better housing situation. Kicking It emphasizes the importance of play in order to be a happy and healthy person. Even those players that weren’t selected for the HWC still felt better just playing the game. It also focuses on how the social aspect of games and team sports can elevate humanity, whether it’s one person’s self esteem or the outlook of an entire nation.