Sport Has Real Power to Create Lasting Change

DAY 8: Thursday 1st August 2019

This is my eighth blog about the Homeless World Cup which is taking place in Bute Park in the centre of Cardiff until August 3. It is a personal reflection or diary piece rather than a chronicle of events.

The media coverage of this year’s Homeless World Cup has been extensive and positive. Actually, the media coverage of every Homeless World Cup over the years has been positive. It’s an uplifting and positive story from whatever angle you want to look at it from.

It is interesting how some newspapers or broadcasters sometimes aren’t sure which reporters to send. Should they send a sports reporter or a news reporter? Which section of the newspaper or broadcast does the Homeless World Cup fit into? The answer is straightforward – it fits everywhere so please send someone.

The football is magic and sometimes very exciting so it certainly is a sports story. The journey that the players have been on to get themselves out of homelessness is compelling, so it most definitely is a news or features story. Add the two together and you have something which is fascinating.

It is a story about the power of sport. Sport has power to change lives. The Homeless World Cup is a clear example of how that happens. Simply, across the world homeless people are encouraged to come and play football. It is a very simple game and anyone can play no matter how good or bad they might be at it. People are encouraged to keep coming back to training sessions and the team bonding helps them move away from their isolation on the street. So the journey begins. Since the Homeless World Cup started it has touched the lives of 1.2 million people.

Football has been the central tool which has provided the means for homeless people to change their lives. Sport has real power because it creates a connection on a level playing field and it is an international language which is easily understandable.

There is that famous quote from Nelson Mandela which sums it up. “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there once was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination. Sport is the game of lovers.”

Governments have been very slow to recognise the power of sport. They still think in silos. For many governments, sport means winning medals full stop. When I speak to some of them they don’t know whether they should be speaking to their Sports Minister or the Minister for Housing. We end up speaking to no-one because they can’t fit us in the appropriate box.

Yet if you look at sport across the globe you can see the massive impact it has made. Take disability. By creating and then promoting the Para Olympics, disabled people have been able to take part in sport, which is fabulous, but its impact has been far greater because it has helped change our entire image of disabled people in society.

Take health. All governments are currently extremely worried about the impact of inactivity on the population. Inactivity is creating health problems across society which in turn is leading to soaring health budgets which are rapidly becoming unsustainable. Sport has a huge part to play in getting people active. It is obvious – to be involved in sport you have to move around. And the beauty is that you don’t necessarily have to be any good at it. Anyone can join in. Yet government sport budgets remain minute and are often seen as entertainment and peripheral when annual funds are allocated each year.

If governments were to substantially increase budgets for sport in its widest context then this has the potential to impact the lives of thousands of people across society for the better. Hmm, it’s kind of obvious! And the Homeless World Cup is a perfect example.

Back at Bute Park, the thrill of the games continues. There have been some cracking matches today. As one journalists says to me: “What is going on here is utterly amazing.” I know. Sport has real power to change the world and make it a better place for everyone.

Photo: Layah Quinn, Mile44

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