I had promised J. to help her with printing some photos for the organization helping her with her shelter. After editing and cropping the photos, we met to go to a photo studio to print them. She was really happy about this small present. Then she showed me around “her neighborhood” and insisted we have lunch in a cheap but nice place with food from her own island close to Madagascar. The food was delicious, and J. was extremely proud to share more about her own culture. I also helped her write an article she was going to present to the association on that day. J. insisted to pay for the lunch despite my objections. While it was very hard for me to agree, I could see how proud she was to be bringing me to this special for her restaurant and treat me as a guest. I could not have refused…
For dinner I met with Fernando – the researcher who has followed the Homeless World Cup for four years and has written a 440-page thesis about it. He knows almost everyone involved in the organization both in Scotland and in France. He has promised to introduce me to one of the founders as well.
It was interesting to me how the idea for the HWC was born. It turns out that both Mel Young and his Austrian partner were together in Cape Town in 2001 on a conference about homeless street vendors. Both fans of football (soccer), one night they were discussing how wonderful it would be if some championship for the vendors from all over the world existed. On the next day they still thought the idea was great and that something should be done. And indeed, in 2003 they organized the first HWC in Austria for homeless newspaper vendors. The success of the event convinced them that it should be more inclusive for homeless people in general. Since then, the championship has been expanding more and more impact each year.
From Fernando I also learned a lot about the realities of the HWC that are not always evident to the researcher who does not follow what happens after the event. This made me happy about my decision to stay in France for one more month after the HWC.
Today was an exciting day for me – a new girl from China came to practice with the team. She does not speak any French and almost speaks no English. Luckily, I could be of help and translate for her and the coaches. I could tell she is a very good athlete since the moment she arrived – while having many questions for me and not even knowing about the upcoming championship, she eagerly followed all the coach’s instructions and demonstrated some amazing athletic skill. At the end of the practice when we were doing more drills and playing mini-games, I realized she is an amazing player. She was untouchable with the ball – she could trick everyone (even the best players), and she never missed a shot against L. – one of the best goalies I’ve ever seen. Regardless to say, the team, the coaches, and I strongly admired her play.
I learned from her that she left China because of the hard conditions in her province- Xinjiang. Anyone knowing about the riots between Muslim and Han Chinese there would not be surprised. What one could marvel at, however, was her courage. She left her family, and with one of friends, headed to a country whose language she does not even speak. All of this in the hopes for a better future.
N. told me she had played street soccer since she was a little girl and professionally with a male team since fourteen. Her dream is to continue playing professionally. Seeing her talent made me hope that this dream would become reality.
The French female team has to be announced during the upcoming Sunday. However, the decision has already been almost finalized. The girls need documents, medical certifications, and time – time to bond as a team and to practice together. N. has had neither of these and will most likely be unable to compete in the upcoming championship. I talked to the coach about her, and he was similarly impressed with her skill. He promised to keep on working with her and give her a chance at the following practices, but he knows it is almost impossible for her to compete in this championship. For that, the team would have to accept her. Without language skills and with only limited time (two more practices this week), this might be impossible for her. Nevertheless, I was promised she would be supported and directed to the right people in professional football.
Before practice on Saturday morning, I am meeting with her . I will use the time to honestly explain to her what the situation is like and what her goals and expectations should be given the circumstances.