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5 Dec, 2008 04:59

Homeless and Away: Oz World Cup helps poverty fight

Fifty six national teams have gathered in Melbourne for the fifth annual Homeless World Cup. It aims to fight poverty, show homeless people in a positive light and promote their integration into mainstream society.

Team Russia has jumped out in front – winning it's first three games by large margins. The Russians previously won the cup in 2006 in Cape Town.

The 4-a-side games are played over two seven-minute halves. The play is quick, and popular with the locals, as the City of Melbourne is one of the main sponsors of the event.

To qualify for the event, players must either be homeless, make their main living selling street newspapers, or be asylum seekers.

Two street newspaper vendors came up with the idea back in 2001 and the first tournament took place in 2003 in Graz, Austria.

According to the tournament’s website, 77 per cent of participants go on to find a home, get a job, come off drugs and alcohol, and repair family relationships.

The international event also provides a good opportunity for the homeless to gain asylum.

Back in 2006, Melbourne hosted a similar games with homeless people invited to play. A group of nationals from Sierra Leone came to Australia and a refugee help group from Sydney helped them to gain asylum.

David Addington, from Sydney's Northern Beaches Refugee Sanctuary, helped that group from Sierra Leone, and said that at this year's Homeless World Cup he would do it again if asked.

“If you are homeless and from a third-world nation there would be reasons why you could argue about the morality of sending you back to those circumstances,” Addington told the Australian Associated Press.

“Sierra Leone is officially the world's poorest nation so their football players are homeless in the poorest country. If I was one of them and I came to a city like Melbourne and saw the opportunities there, there is a good chance I would put my hand up for asylum,” added Addington.

Organisers for the World Cup are reporting that one man has already disappeared, but are not giving any further details.