Last night, I watched Kicking It, about the Homeless World Cup. For the tournament, eight homeless individuals from countries around the world are selected to participate on a team in an international football tournament held in places throughout the world. For Susan Koch’s documentary, the tournament took place in South Africa with Desmond Tutu opening the events.
The philosophy behind the tournament says that homeless people will gain an amazing opportunity to turn their lives around through participation in this football tournament (that’s soccer, for the U.S. readers). It gives them a place to belong and gives them the opportunity to work with others toward a goal (no pun intended) while representing their home countries at the same time. The organization cites a 73 percent success rate in players turning their lives around as they change
their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes, training, reuniting with families and even going on to become players and coaches for pro or semi-pro football teams.
Kicking It focuses on key players from several countries, including Ireland, Kenya, Russia, Spain, Afghanistan, and the United States. Through individual players we gain some insights into their situations and their difficulties. Irish player Damien is on methadone treatments. Russian player Slavan faces governmental discrimination as homeless is taboo in his country and he cannot get the necessary documentation to work. Afghani player Najib faces life after his home was destroyed in war and under an oppressive regime. U.S. player Craig talks about how legislation in his city makes it illegal even for him to sleep.
Several of the players do experience turnarounds thanks in part to the tournament. The Russian players’ victory helps start a dialogue about the issue in their home country. Several players find jobs and now have homes (apartments). Only one unfortunate player, Simon, does die from an overdose later on.
The film features extended coverage of the tournament itself and highlights not only the game, but also the players’ struggles with participating at times. Play-by-play commentary over the footage explains the rules and differences from “regular” football, but it also calls attention to the players and their skills at goal-keeping and team-work. Kenyan player Alex kept getting singled out for his wanting to try the penalty kicks and his difficulties with doing so.
In some ways the film challenges the label “homeless.” The dominant perception shows an individual sleeping on the street or a bench and begging for food; media imagery in the U.S. frequently uses these views to “illustrate” news coverage about homelessness. Several of the players did have places to stay, such as a shelter or clinic, but they did not have their own spaces of an apartment or house.
But much of the message of this film suggests that finding a purpose, having a goal, will motivate a homeless person to overcome circumstances and make a better life. It does show some of the measures to criminalize homelessness through the Russian players and through the U.S. player, and it shows some of the measures to help other players, such as through the methadone treatments, the shelters, and this tournament. Overall, though, the film elides some of the larger, institutional, governmental, and economic issues that create a world in which more than 1 billion (at least according to the film) are homeless.