Soccer fun and excitement in Brazil has already begun. On Friday, capacity crowds enjoyed the opening ceremony of the Street Child World Cup at the Espaço Lonier in Rio. The ceremony began with a parade of nations to the Street Child World Cup’s official anthem for 2014. Titled “I Am Somebody,” it was written by London Elektricity, S.P.Y., and Diane Charlemagne. Part of the ceremony included reading messages of support, with Pope Francis’ imparting an Apolistic Blessing to all the participants “as a pledge of abundant graces.” Prince William’s message said the tournament “shines a spotlight on the 100 million children around the world living on the streets,” unites them in sport, and provides them a worldwide platform from which they can be heard. David Beckham’s message said he was looking forward to watching a tournament in which “street children from around the world will play and represent the millions of children who still live or work on our streets.” Match balls were presented to team captains by star soccer players Luis Boa Morte and Gilberto Silva. Music was provided by the Rio de Janiero British School Orchestra. Matches began on Sunday and will resume tomorrow.
The Street Child World Cup is described by its website as “a global campaign for street children to receive the protection and opportunities that all children deserve.” The first SCWC took place in 2010 in South Africa and was sponsored, as it is this year, by the international NGO organization Save the Children. This year, there are approximately 230 boys and girls aged 14-17 who represent 19 countries, including the U.S. taking part. All participants either have lived or are currently living in the streets. Known as “street champions,” these young people are examples of how the right opportunities, protection, and rehabilitation can give children a better future. Soccer matches are the event’s headliner, but the intensive ten-day program is more than a game. It encourages interaction, exploration, and enjoyment through various activities. The children will visit iconic sites such as the Maracana stadium, where the FIFA World Cup final will take place, and the Christ the Redeemer statue. In addition, the kids will interact with local residents through an arts festival and football activities.
A key part of the SCWC is the international street child conference, which is “the only participatory international conference for street-connected children.” One aim of the conference is to challenge the negative treatment and perceptions of street children. Another is empowerment. To that end, the children will develop a universal statement called the “Rio Rights Declaration” that provides country-specific tasks ensuring the SCWC will “continue to be used as a platform for change when the children return to their own countries.” The conference will employ a methodology called Team of Life, which has been developed “to enable traumatized children to talk about their experiences in a manner that empowers them with resilience.” The theme of gender will also be addressed, highlighting the experiences faced by girls living on the streets. International Human Trafficking Consultant Abigail Stepinitz points out that the SCWC’s girls’ teams are also “a fantastic example of breaking down gender stereotypes. In so many countries, sport is still considered to be the domain of men and boys.” The first SCWC in 2010 helped to end the practice of “street-cleaning” in Durban, South Africa, where children were forcibly rounded up and dumped as far as 30 miles away from their original locations. The change in Durban bodes well for this year’s conference, and “talks will be held in the knowledge that substantial change is possible.”
There were some exciting matches yesterday at Maracana, Soccer City, and River Plate, and even more are scheduled for Tuesday. Quarter-finals begin on Friday. The main goal of the SCWC, however, is to create an active and supportive forum for these global “street champions” to express themselves with conﬁdence and a sense that they can achieve lasting change. Co-founder Chris Rose, at the opening ceremony, thanked the children for coming and called SCWC “the World Cup that matters most.”
By Donna Westlund