By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Football (soccer) is known in Brazil as o jogo bonito (the beautiful game) and is a concept embraced by people spanning the nation’s vastly differing social classes. Now with the world’s most popular sport bringing its most illustrious prize, the World Cup, to these shores in 2014, it can be easy to forget some of those society’s most vulnerable members amongst the hype of a highly lucrative sporting sensation.
Which is where the inspirational notion of the NGO (non-profit) Street Child World Cup (SCWC) comes into play. In March and April 2014, a couple of months prior to the main event, a football tournament hopefully comprising twenty teams will make up a World Cup for homeless youngsters.
It will be the second time the project has staged such a spectacle after the huge success of the initial effort in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. Joe Hewitt, who is involved with the program, explained to The Rio Times:
“In 2009 a group of families from Cambridge visited the Umthombo project in Durban, South Africa. When they met the street children at Umthombo they realized this festival of football [the World Cup] was not including them.”
He added, “When international visitors would come to Durban, the municipal police would round up street children and take them away. On their return to Cambridge they discussed how football must include those most vulnerable in society – street children.”
As a result of the project’s work, police “round ups” are a thing of the past in Durban and the NGO project has now turned its attention to Brazil, and more specifically Rio de Janeiro, hoping to make a similar, positive impact. The chasm between social classes in Brazil is no secret, but more events like this can help to bridge that gap.
Preparations are already underway for the 2014 edition of the tournament, with the main focus falling on Rio, which will act as host city. The Brazilian players who took part in South Africa two years ago recently paid a visit to London, taking in an Arsenal match as well as a Tottenham training session, and talking to Brazilian international Sandro Ranieri.
The youngsters, all from São Paulo, are no longer living on the streets. With an age bracket of 14-16 years old, the players from the 2010 tournament will be too old this time around and the team from Brazil is still awaiting confirmation.
However, the project is not only about the sport. There are also extra-curricular activities and art based trips to widen the spectrum of the entire once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Joe Hewitt continued: “In advance [of the tournament] we will launch a list of build-up activities. This June we aim to take our Ukranian team from 2010 to the England-Ukraine game in the Euros where we will catch up on their stories.”
An international conference for street children was held in South Africa and the children were given the chance to let their artistic natures run free with an art exhibition sponsored by Momentum Arts.
SCWC are now on the lookout for sponsors for the 2014 event with discussions with Deloitte Brazil already taking place. After the roaring success of South Africa 2010 the message and mission will be the same for Rio to do away with the stereotyping of society’s most needy and help create a brighter future for those deserving a chance.