Some 500 players from nearly 50 countries will gather in Cape Town 23-30 September for the fourth edition of the annual Homeless World Cup. As many as 100,000 spectators are expected to cheer the players at a specially built stadium on the Grand Parade in front of the city hall, where Nelson Mandela made his first speech after his release from prison on 11 February 1990.

The tournament is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Mel Young, who established The Big Issue in Scotland before going on to help set up the International Network of Street Papers, a global network of over 60 street papers distributed in countries all over the world by homeless or long-term unemployed people, who take a portion of the revenue from sales. Its aim is to combat social exclusion and build cooperation and solidarity through sport.

An estimated 10,000 homeless people in countries as far afield as Afghanistan, Ukraine and the United States have been training regularly and participating in national street soccer leagues and trials for their national squad ahead of this years tournament.

Following the second Homeless World Cup in Sweden in 2004 more than 90 per cent of participants said that the tournament had a positive impact on their lives and 74 per cent said they had made significant changes in their lives as a direct result of their involvement.

The competition is organized in conjunction with European football association UEFA and the United Nations with backing from national teams and corporate sponsors including international law firm White and Case, local wine estate Spier and electronics giant Philips.

The tournament takes place against the backdrop of a severe housing crisis in Cape Town: 400,000 families are in need of proper accommodation according to new revised figures released by the city authorities in August. This figure represents over half the number of formal households in the city registered under the 2001 South African census.

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