Grant Jarvie
Professor and Director, University of Edinburgh, Academy of Sport

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24/07/2016 par Grant Jarvie

Small sport interventions can make big differences to life chances

“We can tackle Homelessness and football can show the way” were the opening words as the 2016 Homeless World Cup kicked of in Glasgow on the 10th of July. Small interventions can actually make a difference.

The Idea for the Homeless World Cup was forged in Cape Town, launched in Austria in 2003 with Glasgow hosting the 14th Homeless World Cup. Since 2003 it has involved more than 70 countries, 276 street soccer tournaments, 420 cities, 41 specific women’s programmes and more than 100,000 homeless people per year. This maybe a fraction of the world’s homeless people but the point is that this small intervention that uses football to help people turn their lives around is making a difference.

While there is considerable divergence of opinion across Europe as to how to measure homelessness their should be unanimity on the fact that the eradication of homelessness is something that not just Europe should agree upon but all nation states. Put more forcibly have you heard anyone argue that homelessness is a good idea?

The scale of the trend might be debated but even before the onslaught of refugee crisis challenged different countries the existing European data for different countries all showed that in 2014, with the exception of Finland, homelessness was on the increase.

Former US President Clinton once said that football has done more to help tackle poverty than almost any single government initiative. Peace and sport has advanced and supported the idea that sport is a valuable tool available to countries in different forms. Carefully crafted interventions using sport, again and again evidence that it has, is and can be again a resource of hope.

Impact studies by both Harvard and the University of Edinburgh testify to the success of the Homeless World Cup – 94% of those involved have a new motivation for life; 71% have changed their lives completely; 71% continue to play football.

A four-year study of Homeless World Cup carried out by the University of Edinburgh Academy of Sport substantiates the fact that this football based intervention builds capabilities, improves confidence, provides for pathways out of difficult circumstances.

As one participant stated “It’s about getting your skills better, cos once you’ve got good skills you can tell your employer – it’s just about getting a chance”

And another “I’d been struggling with drug addiction for years and last year I became totally homeless. I’d used and abused family members and friends and they were so scared I was going to kill myself by using drugs that we lost contact. I eventually took myself into a treatment centre, it turned out to be the best move and a lot of that is down to football’

Homelessness is one aspect of poverty, it exists in every country in the world and the scale of the challenge is enormous and growing. The lesson of the Homeless World Cup being held in Glasgow is that small things can make a big difference, that this football based intervention works, that sport is a resource of hope and world leaders need to grasp more than they do that from small based sports interventions can grow alternative life chances. Something that many bigger interventions have failed to do.

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