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'It can change our lives' - Street Child World Cup in Moscow tackles stigma of forgotten children

11 May, 2018 20:02
'It can change our lives' - Street Child World Cup in Moscow tackles stigma of forgotten children
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Although the Russia 2018 World Cup is over a month away, football mad children from all corners of the world descended on Moscow on Friday to mark another special tournament with a different kind of goal.

The Street Child World Cup: The Future Depends on You is a tournament that aims to raise awareness about child homelessness, which the UN estimates affects around 150 million young people.

Over 200 of those 150 million street-connected children attended the Street Child World Cup opening ceremony in the Russian capital, held at Sapsan Arena, just a stone's throw from the stadium of newly-crowned Russian champions, Lokomotiv Moscow.

All of those young people were already champions, without having kicked a ball.

Plucked from disadvantaged backgrounds, the boys and girls that make up the 24 teams participating in the five-day tournament had quite literally played their way out of less forgiving parts of the world, overcoming life's most difficult opponents to make it to Russia.

Marking the next chapter, were squads from Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, as well as England, the US, Mexico, Brazil, Tanzania, Liberia, Egypt, Burundi, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan, Bolivia, India and Mauritius.

All are street-connected children - a term which refers to children who are either living on the streets or have done - and the tournament tackles the dangers of that stigma. Previously, the Street Child World Cup garnered praise from Sir Alex Ferguson, Pele and even the Pope.

On Friday, Russian football Stanislav Cherchesov was joined by former Chelsea midfielder and Premier League winner Alexey Smertin, as well as Soviet football legend Nikita Simonyan, in voicing their support for the tournament, who spoke before the tournament's group stage draw.

England player Kate, a 16-year-old who also plays as a pacey right winger, arrived in Russia from London one day prior to the official tournament launch. But did she suffer any nerves before leaving for Moscow?

"I was a bit nervous because I've never been to Russia and obviously there's a lot happening with Russia, but it's different now I'm here," she told RT Sport.

The current political tensions between the UK and Russia dictate that Western media is currently striving to discourage its football fans from travelling to Russia in 2018. The tall midfielder showed more bottle and spoke of only football.

"I go to school at Arsenal and Centrepoint and they wanted people to come to Russia so they trialled us and I got the opportunity through there basically. I'm excited to play against the teams here - we'll see how good they are," she added.

Youth homeless charity Centrepoint works alongside Arsenal FC in London to engage individuals living in temporary accommodation, offering them emotional support and access to employment pathways. It is another example of football helping lost youths, this time in the English capital.

Asked whether there is a greater chance of her and her teammates winning the Street Child World Cup or England winning Russia 2018, Kate laughed before giving a firm and sure: "us winning Street Child World Cup."

Tanzania undoubtedly made their presence felt. The team from the African Great Lakes region was bubbling with wide-eyed exuberance, making themselves heard with shouts of "Kilimanjaro!" and "Zanzibar!"

Their captain, the relatively reserved Steria Robert, said her journey had begun from the "hard life of nothing," but she had achieved her dream of playing for Tanzania through simple faith in football.

"There are a lot of players competing in Tanzania, so they we had trials for the team. The organisation selected us because they have the faith in us," Steria, a 15-year-old midfielder who styles her play on Rwandan international Haruna Niyonzima, a star of Tanzania's Young Africans, told RT Sport after the draw.

"I study but I also like football. We are all from the street. We are children living a hard life with no food, no clothes, no anything. We were taken to the center where we were selected for the event."

She added: "We will believe that we will go far because there are people behind us, there are coaches and there are staff and a lot of people who are there in the centers and we believe that we will do well."

The 2018 Street Child World Cup is the tournament's third installment. It has been held in concurrence with the World Cup since the South Africa 2010 tournament. The Cup champions the concept of togetherness through football with the motto: "I am somebody."

Among the deafening celebrations, perhaps the most resounding message of the day was delivered by the captain of Tanzania's neighbours, Kenya - Farijal Otuko, a 16-year-old right back and Real Madrid fan.

"Street Child is better than the World Cup. It can change lives," Otuko said, before adding that he was sure Kenya would win the tournament, as they were "the strongest and the best team."

As Russia prepares to welcome the world's football elite next month, all playing for the biggest prize in world football, street children play for their future - knowing the result depends entirely on them.

By Danny Armstrong for RT sport