Three World Cup Games You Won’t See on TV This Year

It’s June 2010 and World Cup fever has arrived.  Americans, largely indifferent at best to the world’s most popular sport, are coming out of the woodwork to cheer on the US national team.  Names like Donovan, Dempsy, Howard, and Altidore are thrown around like Manning, Jeter, Bryant and Woods on any other day.

However, for the other 6.4 billion people on Earth, the World Cup is as big as it gets. Bars are packed at all hours of the night for live match broadcasts,  town squares are crowded with locals jammed around one large screen to share the action, and national heroes are waiting to be made.

Perhaps most importantly, with this World Cup, Africa has the chance to prove its ability to organize and host international events of the greatest scale.  This is a moment of pride for the whole continent.

But the World Cup action doesn’t end in South Africa.  Grassroots soccer organizations all over the globe hold their own World Cup tournaments from time to time and celebrate life and sport without thousands of cameras, multi-million dollar bonuses, revolutionary light-weight cleats, or Shakira there to cheer them on.  Here are just a few:

Refugee World Cup

Ahmad Amin of the Iraqi team displays the colors of his home country. Photo: Nancy Gay, FanHouse

On June 5th and 6th the Bay Area office of the International Rescue Committee and Soccer Without Borders hosted the first Refugee World Cup in Oakland, California.

Nine teams of refugees from conflict-addled countries including Bhutan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq and Myanmar (formerly Burma) duked it out in the common language of soccer in a land newly their own.

Ali Kareem, the captain of the Iraqi team who came to the US after being injured in a bomb blast and exiled to Jordan, explained in a KQED radio interview the significance of the games.  “For refugees, when they came here there are so many challenges like the language, finding a job, and soccer is the only thing they really manage and they know how to do. So they really want to play to prove themselves to prove that they are really good enough. So soccer, it’s like their thing.”

Homeless World Cup

Homeless World Cup Ireland vs Ghana

Action between Ghana and Ireland in Milan 2009. Photo: Homeless World Cup (All Rights Reserved.)

The Homeless World Cup takes place annually to bring attention to the problem of homelessness in effort to end it.  Additionally, it provides players an opportunity to build confidence and pride while representing their country and working toward something inspiring and meaningful in their lives.  According to the organization’s website,

“The impact is consistently significant year on year with 73% of players changing their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes, training, reuniting with families, and even going on to become players and coaches for pro or semi-pro football teams.”

True to the nature of homelessness, which cuts across nationalities, races, genders and ages,  players can join men’s, women’s and co-ed teams as long as they’re over 16 and have been homeless some time in the last year.

This year’s Homeless World Cup will unite 56 nations and take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this September.  Check out the footage from the 2009 finals in Milan, Italy here.

Amputee Football World Cup

Players from Cameroon and Sierra Leone on the pitch at the 2007 African Nations Football Cup for Amputees. Photo: justinhane via Flickr

This year’s Amputee Football World Cup (organized by World Amputee Football) will be played in Crespo, Argentina in October. Teams attending the tournament each tend to change with the availability of funding; however, the USA, France, England, Brazil, Argentina, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Turkey, and Uzbekistan should be expected to field sides.

Amputee soccer started in the 1980’s as a rehabilitation and strengthening exercise for single leg amputees, but it quickly grew into a competitive disabled sport.  The game has a few simple adaptations. Field players on crutches dribble and kick the ball with their functional limb, but cannot control or block the ball with the crutches.  Use of a partial limb or crutches to intentionally control the ball is treated as a hand ball.  Goalies have two functional legs, but only one functional hand and arm.  After that, have at it.

Amputee soccer first came to my attention in 2007 when I visited Uganda.  News reports discussed the Ugandan team preparing for the All-African Amputee Football Championship and Amputee African Nations Cup.  On a continent where medical care is scarce and war has ravaged populations for decades, amputation is not entirely rare and soccer not entirely forgotten.

Countries that have emerged from merciless civil wars like Sierra Leone and Liberia have a lot of healing left to do.  Amputees on the streets symbolize their past horrors.  While many of these amputees are victims of the bloodshed, most are former combatants now shunned from society.  Few have the opportunity to work, so almost all survive on panhandling.  For these people, amputee soccer provides a seed of hope for a world of acceptance, peace, and normality.  There are compelling videos about players in Liberia and Sierra Leone here and here.  Check out a professional conflict photographer’s photos of the Liberian team here.

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6 thoughts on “Three World Cup Games You Won’t See on TV This Year

  1. wow, I’ve never even heard of any of these before!
    Where/how do you find all this stuff, Jenica? It’s so interesting 🙂

    Please write more! You have at least one loyal reader.

    • When I hear or read about these things, they get furrowed away in the corners of my brain, until I have something to connect them together. Once I do, it nags at me until I can share it with someone, often times this blog.

      In this case I remembered hearing about amputee soccer on TV in Uganda, and then heard the NPR report about the Refugee World Cup a couple of weeks ago. The Homeless World Cup came to my attention from a Canon ad for the PowerShot G10 camera. They gave a G10 to a handful of National Geographic photographers and showed off what can be done with the point-and-shoot. One of the photographers shot players preparing for the Homeless World Cup.

      I’m very glad to have a loyal reader! It encourages me to write more. I actually have a tiny Moleskine I carry with me most places writing down blog post ideas.

      P.S. I’m very impressed with the following your blog has amassed. You receive very insightful comments.

  2. Sweet entry Jenica! I had heard of the Homeless World Cup, but never the other ones. Will send to my g/f as she will find it really interesting!

  3. I actually play for the english amputee side & have done since 2005, we’re hoping to be there in october for this world cup as its suppossed to be the biggest in the history of the sport, with more teams entered, at present we are stil trying to raise the funds to get there,
    It is a great sport to play but its just a shame its not popular in most of europe like it is in africa, brazil & russia where they have huge squads,
    if you type Amputee football in any search engine you wll find out more about the sport

    • Lee,
      Nice to hear from you, thanks for the comment!

      In researching this article I read about England’s team losing its funding for the Argentina trip. I truly hope you and your teammates receive the support you need to make it to South America and show the rest of the world it’s England’s game they’re playing. Best of luck.

  4. thanks, we are still trying to raise the funds to get out there & have a good crack at bringing home the trophy, We played the french amputee team for the Takeda cup in June which we won 10-0. We are always looking for sponsors or donations as we are not funded, if you know of anyone who would be willing to help in any way that would be greatful, they could contact us via the website http://www.theaft.co.uk. Thanks again.

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