Homeless World Cup: Sport for health research

Playing organised sport can help people turn their lives around, according to research presented at LJMU this week.

Experts from LJMU’s School of Sport and Exercise Science interviewed Team England players both during & after participation in the Homeless World Cup and the personal development programme which is wrapped around it.  

They have found that not only can people step outside their ‘homeless life’ and find new perspective and confidence but can gain self-esteem and feel a need to move forward with their lives.

The Homeless World Cup is an annual international football tournament which engages more than 500 people from 50 countries in 4-a-side ‘street football’. A new Netflix film called The Beautiful Game starring Bill Nighy tells its’ story.

LJMU this week hosted a presentation of research and screening of the film 'The Beautiful Game' attended by Team England players, stakeholders, staff, students and members of the public.

“The film highlights the highs and lows of the players’ journey to the Homeless World Cup and back again,” explains Dr Kathryn Curran, a researcher specialising in Sport for Health initiatives. 

Kathryn along with Emily Whyte from Glasgow Caledonian University, engaged players over a three-year period to understand the short and long-term influence of taking part in the tournament and associated personal development programme.

Three areas in particular were of interest: sense of self, perspective and empathy and social capital.

They found players had a new sense of purpose to move forward with their lives, based on their achievements, and the encouragement and recognition they received.

“How they felt valued through the inclusive and safe environment supported participants to build their self-belief and motivation to make positive changes,” said Kathryn.

Participants described how the Homeless World Cup gave them an impression of another life, another world outside of their own, including how lucky they felt, compared to the misfortune of other participants from different countries.

Finally, they observed how the project builds social capital with participants reporting new friendships, stronger trust in others and the evolution of support networks within and outside of the group.

“It was the coming together of homeless people that was the best thing for me. I thoroughly believe that we have bonded because we’ve come from the same background, we are all in it together, because we’ve all experienced the same shit through life,” said one player.

However, upon return from the Homeless World Cup and completion of the personal development programme players often found it challenging to readjust to their lives outside of Team England. 

Kathryn and Emily said the research could inform sport and homelessness policy, guidance, and the ongoing development and commissioning of sport-based interventions globally that work with people experiencing homelessness.  















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