The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup aims to be among the most inclusive and welcoming sporting event held in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Unity and inclusivity were underlining themes for the tournament’s Unity Pitch, the colourful small-sided pitch that recently concluded its tour of all nine Host Cities. Such themes are in keeping with the promotion of Human Rights as part of the tournament’s Sustainability Strategy .
Inclusivity, perhaps, does not always generate thoughts of people struggling through the likes of homelessness, substance abuse, family breakdown and mental illness. But the Street Soccer programme – supported by international recognised not-for-profit organisation The Big Issue – was a welcome feature on the Unity Pitch’s event schedule.
The Street Soccer programme has changed the lives of countless marginalised people across the globe. The camaraderie and non-competitive environment was clearly evident when a host of Street Soccer participants turned out at the recent Sydney/Gadigal Unity Pitch.
Each participant has their own back-story says organiser Jenny Tracey, before introducing goalkeeper Anthony who cheerily clarifies his moniker, “Call me Wolverine – everyone does”.
Wolverine is happy to extol the value of the programme that he has been involved in for over a decade, playing in national competitions in the process.
“I suffered from depression and PTSD,” he said. “Before I joined the Street Soccer programme I was always depressed which led to my bouts of homelessness. Being a part of this has helped me to get into a better state of mind. It is a place where I can escape my head. On the pitch, you can leave all your worries behind.
“This helps keep me fit. I was a smoker for 20 years but this inspired me to give up and I am feeling better ever since.
“A lot of people come and go over the years but there is a sense of camaraderie and there is companionship of course. I have met friends from interstate and played in national competitions.”
On the pitch, the football is played in a manner that respects everyone’s ability level. Matters may become a little more intense when it comes to selecting a squad for the Homeless World Cup, which will be held in California capital Sacramento later this year.
The opportunity of an international trip is an insight into the opportunity the programme offers, but the real value comes through a week-to-week connection.
“It becomes a way to centre their week,” says Tracey, State coordinator, Community Street Soccer programme for NSW and ACT. “It is something they then look forward to and get some sort of routine going.
“They make friendships and generally everyone is really supportive of each other and that is nice to see. We are quite deliberate to create that [non-competitive] environment, constantly swap teams, and try not to shout out the score.
“When you have winners, you have losers. The goal at the Homeless World Cup is to win the Fair Play Cup!”