Taking it to the Street: World Cup to help children kicks off in Brazil

Brazil plays host to pioneering global tournament for ‘street kids’

Rio de Janeiro

While Brazil and Fifa continue to fret over late stadiums and spiralling World Cup costs, another kind of football tournament, far removed from the sleek corporate world of Sepp Blatter and Co, kicks off in Rio de Janeiro this Sunday.

The Street Child World Cup brings together teams of young people from a variety of countries, ranging from the desperately poor (Burundi and Liberia) to the comparatively wealthy (the UK and US), to raise awareness of the plight of the millions of children across the world who are forced to sleep rough every night. All the players taking part have spent at least some of their lives living on the streets.

The aim of the event, which features a girls and a boys tournament and is supported by football greats such as Pele, David Beckham and Gary Lineker, is encapsulated by its slogan “I Am Somebody”. The idea behind the project is to give the children a voice and allow them to speak for themselves about the issues that affect their lives.

“One of the biggest challenges these children face is the stigma that goes with living on the streets. They are treated as subhuman, as outcasts from society,” explains Joe Hewitt, head of SCWC’s Brazil office. “One of our key aims is to challenge the negative perceptions and treatment of these kids, to give them a platform to be seen as children.”

The location of this year’s Street Child World Cup gives the event added relevance. Despite considerable progress having been made in recent years, millions of Brazilians still live below the poverty line, and the basic social infrastructure is frequently inadequate. There have been few World Cups where the wisdom of spending large amounts of public money on football stadiums has been so bitterly debated.

In a country notorious for its social inequality,  there can be no starker example of the problems that the SCWC hopes to highlight than the tragic death of a member of the Brazil team last month.

“It sounds like something from a film script, but Rodrigo Kelton really was our best player,” says Manoel Torquato, a coordinator at O Pequeno Nazareno, the care home and support centre that is home to Team Brazil. “We hired a professional coach to train the players for the World Cup, and he said that Rodrigo could have had a real future in the game.”

No longer. On 13 February, 14-year-old Rodrigo was shot and killed by drug traffickers near his family home in Fortaleza, a World Cup host city and one of the biggest urban centres in the north-east of Brazil, the country’s poorest region. His murder was allegedly punishment for a robbery that he committed a number of years before, and ironically came at a time when Rodrigo had stopped using drugs and was instead dedicating his time to playing football at O Pequeno Nazareno.

Rodrigo had drifted on to the streets when his parents’ own drug addiction made remaining at home difficult. It is one of a number of reasons why Brazilian children end up in such situations, according to Torquato. “Many come from poor families where the mother sends them out to beg, and if they don’t come home with enough money, they get beaten. So instead of going home they spend the night on the streets. Or perhaps they get caught stealing money, or shoplifting, so they can buy marijuana. The kids say there are illegal death squads of retired or moonlighting cops operating in the city. So they run away because they’re scared.”

To raise awareness of such issues, the Street Child World Cup organisers plan to join forces with other Brazilian pressure groups for an event at Candelaria Cathedral in Rio de Janeiro, where eight young homeless people were murdered by the police in 1993.

The remaining members of Team Brazil will not forget Rodrigo. But nor can they contain their excitement about the prospect of playing in the Street Child World Cup. “I don’t think they’ve slept since they heard the news that they’re going to Rio. Most of them have never left Fortaleza, let alone the state,” says Torquato.

He, and the SCWC organisers, hope that the global influence of football can make a difference to the lives of these boys and girls. 

“Football is everything here,” Torquato says. “When we go out into the streets to talk to the homeless children, we take an album of photos of our centre with us. The photos that they get most excited about are the ones of the food in the kitchen, and the ones of the boys playing football.”

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn