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PHL Homeless World Cup Team Appeals to the Public

Getting into the FIFA World Cup may be years into the future yet for either the men’s or women’s Philippine national teams; but there is a football World Cup for which the Philippines has been a regular participant in recent years. This is the Homeless World Cup or the HWC, an annual street football tournament held by an organisation of the same name.

The organisation’s philosophy is simple. Since the great sport of association football is without a doubt already the most popular spectator and participatory sport around the globe, then it can be used as a tool to catalyse social change for the approximately one billion people who are homeless worldwide.

The first HWC was organised in the year 2003 in the Austrian city of Graz and has been played annually in cities such as Gothenburg, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Cape Town, Melbourne, Milan, Rio de Janeiro and Paris. This year, Mexico plays host to this unique sporting event.

As a catalyst for social change, the success rate of the HWC has been staggering. As much as 73% of players who have participated in the tournament have started to live better by getting off their drug and alcohol addictions, looking for and getting jobs, reuniting back into their respective families and pursuing education. There are those who have even become players or coaches for professional or semi-professional football teams.

In this case, a plane ticket goes beyond Mexico City but onto a life that will not otherwise be possible without the goodwill of those who are more fortunate.
The Philippines first participated in the 2008 tournament held in Melbourne, where the team finished 37th. The country has participated annually since then, making steady progress in every year.

In the 2009 tournament held in Milan, the country improved eight places and finished 29th. The following year in Rio de Janeiro, the Philippines won the Host Cup, the fourth of six trophies that can be won in each HWC.

Last year, in Paris, the country placed 24th, the first time that the Philippines placed in the top half among participating nations.

The Philippines’ participation in the annual tournament is handled locally by an organisation called the Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation. Rudy del Rosario, former national team mainstay and one of the heroes of the successful 1991 SEA Games campaign, is the foundation’s director.

In cooperation with local carrier Cebu Pacific Airways, the foundation has been able to recruit players from society’s marginalised sector by conducting tryouts nationwide since 2010.

To qualify, a player must be at least 18 years old and as per HWC rules meet any of these conditions: be homeless or vulnerably housed; an orphan in an institution; a street dweller; an internally displaced refugee; has been homeless and currently in a drug rehabilitation program; an indigenous person not currently living in the tribal land for reasons beyond his control; or the vendor of a street paper.

Apart from training the players selected for their participation in the HWC, the foundation also tries to equip them with tools to help them reintegrate into mainstream society and improve their lives. They are taught how to be street football coaches for the foundation’s grassroots development program; learn music and meditation; and are taught social interaction skills.

The foundation’s efforts to try and improve the lives of players are already starting to bear fruit.

Mark Maravilla, who captained the team that participated in Rio de Janeiro, was promoted to assistant coach of the team that played last year in Paris. Since del Rosario has taken on the foundation’s directorship, Maravilla has been appointed coach of the team that is scheduled to fly out to Mexico City for the HWC scheduled on 6-14 October.

Another player, Lexter Maravilla, played for Kaya FC and is now in the books of reigning United Football League champion Global FC. Janrick Soriano is in the roster of Pachanga FC; while Rick Padilla is with Pasargad FC and also the Philippine national futsal team. Finally, Revect Lagarto is on an athletic scholarship at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Despite the nobleness of its purpose and its successes in changing the lives of the marginalised, the foundation struggles financially. “Fund-raising is the hardest task of the group,” laments del Rosario. “Every year, we have to raise funds to exist, train and compete.”

In fact, the country’s participation in the Mexico tournament is not yet assured because the foundation has thus far only managed to raise enough funds for the plane fare of six players. The local football community has tried to help; and, indeed, the recent KIA Cup was held partly to help raise funds for the Philippine teams’ Mexico trip.

However, the foundation still needs assistance so that the remaining four players may also be booked. “Please help and support our street football homeless heroes,” del Rosario appeals to the goodwill of the public. “Help us get our national street football team to Mexico City. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas at marami pong salamat sa inyong tulong!”

Individuals with golden hearts or parties who wish to make donations to help the Philippines’ homeless street football team may reach del Rosario at aburudz11@yahoo.com or through his Facebook account at https://www.facebook.com/aburudz.

In this case, a plane ticket goes beyond Mexico City but onto a life that will not otherwise be possible without the goodwill of those who are more fortunate. For those who may not be able to support the team in terms of funds, del Rosario says, “Please pray for the team and send us moral support at www.streetsoccerphilippines.com and follow us on twitter @streetsoccerphilippines.”

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