The 10th Homeless World Cup is underway in Mexico City. At the Zócalo square in the heart of the city, three custom-built street-soccer stadiums with a capacity of 5,000 are filling up fast. Danielle Batist is pitch side.

Sources: INSP and L’Itineraire, October 2012

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When Mel Young and Harald Schmied dreamt up a football tournament between the vendors of their street papers in Scotland and Austria ten years ago, they couldn’t have dreamt in their wildest dreams that one day, 20,000 people would cheer on 500 homeless players from 54 countries. And yet, that is exactly what happened in Mexico City on 6th October. The opening weekend of the 10th edition of the Homeless World Cup exceeded every expectation, of players and organisers alike.

The tournament has come a long way since its foundation in Graz, Austria. The numbers of teams have increased every year, a women’s competition has been added and -with a growing number of high profile footballers, sponsors and ambassadors on board – the event has slowly but surely built a reputation for itself around the world.

As well as transforming lives of players involved, the tournament has always been about changing perceptions of homeless people. Therefore, a central location for the event is crucially important, as it maximises public interest. Previous editions have taken place next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro and this year’s location was no less impressive.

The Zocalo in the heart of Mexico City has been the place for social and political gatherings since the times of the Aztecs, so a football tournament between (formerly) homeless from around the world seemed just the right fit for the place. A gigantic Mexican flag was raised in the heart of the square as representatives from each country carried their own flags around the main pitch. It was clear to everyone present that something very special was about to begin.

litineraire HWC mexico

The story in L’Itineraire magazine, Canada, November 2012. Text and photos: Danielle Batist

Homeless World Cup co-founder Mel Young has been saying for years that in his opinion, the tournament is ‘what the United Nations should look like’. This year, Wilfried Lemke of the United Nations office of Sports for Development and Peace climbed the stage to welcome the players on behalf of Ban Ki-Moon.

But it was Young’s opening speech that really drew on the heartstrings of players and crowd alike. Addressing the players directly, he said: “Everyone one of you is a hero. You are all stars. The road you have been on has been hard but now you are here – standing proud, representing your country, playing with passion, playing fair. We all salute you.”

“We have a dream…that the invisible people become visible; that people move from the dark side of the street into the light.”

Young quoted the number of players who transformed their lives since the beginning of the tournament (250,000), but was quick to add that this would not stop him to dream even bigger. In a Martin Luther King-style speech, he said: “We have a dream: that the players who play in Mexico City today change their lives and get a home and a job. We have a dream: that the rest of the world looks at what’s going on and joins in, so that thousands of people pick up the ball and change their lives.”

“We have a dream: that the invisible people become visible; that people move from the dark side of the street into the light. We have a dream: where together, all sections of society – government, business, charity- come together to create a sustainable and inclusive world. We have a dream: of a world where there is no homelessness and no poverty. We can make these dreams a reality. Starting now.”

Read more: The coming-of-age of the Homeless World Cup