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Korea heads for Homeless WC

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Published : Aug. 16, 2011 - 19:06

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The World Cup is not just for national players. It can be a stage where homeless men around the world gather to compete and reinvigorate themselves.

The South Korean team of eight homeless men will head to Paris on Thursday to participate in the 2011 Homeless World Cup, the international event that aims to empower and inspire the homeless or drug and alcohol addicts, Seoul City Government said Tuesday.

The eight members, selected from preliminary contests twice in May and July, have been training hard for the World Cup since July. 
The South Korean team for the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Brazil. The 2011 Homeless World Cup will be held from Aug. 21-28 in Paris. (Seoul Metropolitan Government) The South Korean team for the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Brazil. The 2011 Homeless World Cup will be held from Aug. 21-28 in Paris. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

In Homeless World Cup, matches are in the fast street soccer style, played by four members each team ― three outfield players and one goalkeeper ― for 14 minutes. The remaining four are substitutes.

Among the eight Korean players, two sell the Big Issue, a magazine that lets homeless people earn a legitimate income as vendors. Some stay at shelters run by the Seoul City Government and others stay at small rooms as cheap as 100,000 won ($90) per month on the outskirts of the city, according to the team’s coach Cho Hyung-sung.

“The eight players and those who had applied for the preliminary tests are the ones who want to get back on track in society,” said Cho.

The captain of the South Korean team, who wants to be anonymous, plans to work as a bus driver after the World Cup. He used to stay at a public homeless shelter but recently passed the test for driving large buses.

“Many have become healthy, confident and independent in the course of preparation for the World Cup, said Cho.

The Homeless World Cup, which started in 2003 in Austria, has brought great change in the lives of the homeless, socially disadvantaged through soccer, organizers say. Under the slogan of “Beating Homelessness through Football,” about 94 percent of participants gained new motive for life, and 77 percent actually experienced changes in their lives, according to the Homeless World Cup foundation.

The Korean team participated for the first time in 2010 Brazil Homeless World Cup and won the Best Newcomer award for the friendly manner and encouragement each player showed during the matches despite coming last.

This year they aim to be ranked within the top 30 among 48 participating countries and hopefully get the host cup trophy if lucky.

The Big Issue Korea organized the player selection process and training. Seoul City Government has provided administrative support and free rent of playing fields and the Korea Football Association has provided equipment.

The players who want to qualify for the team should make their income as a street paper vendor or be an asylum seeker, and have been homeless for the past two years.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)