South East Wales

Champions League: Homeless football teams take to pitch

Floating pitch
Image caption Players who have been homeless in the past year will play on Cardiff Bay's floating pitch

Homeless people will play football on the same pitch as some of the world's greatest ever players on Thursday.

Their match on Cardiff Bay's floating pitch will be one of the events ahead of Saturday's Champions League final.

Twenty players will take part, before 750 from around Wales are whittled down to 16 for the Homeless World Cup in Oslo later this year.

Wales will take men's and women's teams to the contest after £10,000 of Welsh Government funding.

"It's absolutely huge. It will be the same field, arena, where the day after a group of legends are going to be on the same pitch," Keri Harris of Street Football Wales said.

"It will help show homeless people are like everyone else, we are all just one step away. Being on the same pitch as famous footballers will help show they are human."

They will play on a specially-erected floating pitch at Cardiff Bay ahead of a legends match that will see Wales' Ryan Giggs and Ian Rush play with other superstars such as Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo.

Image copyright UEFA
Image caption The floating pitch near the Senedd is one of many attractions at Cardiff Bay ahead of the Champions League final

The Homeless World Cup first took place in Austria in 2003, as a way of inspiring homeless people to transform their futures.

About 50 voluntary groups and charities from around Wales then came together to create their own street football programme.

Teams include over-16s, with some that have become socially excluded through things like substance misuse, mental health or cultural issues, and suffered homelessness in the past year.

Others had been long-term unemployed or spent time in jail and faced stigma and barriers to being part of society.

Ahead of Thursday's demonstration match, Mr Harris said that street football has made a "life changing difference" to hundreds of homeless people and the prospect of playing in the world cup has inspired them.

Actor Michael Sheen is a patron, while minister for social services and public health Rebecca Evans said: "I met Street Football Wales recently and saw the difference their projects can make to people's lives, not only in regards to health and wellbeing, but also in terms of self-confidence and personal development."

The 2016 Homeless World Cup was in Glasgow, with Wales' men finishing top in the fourth tier competition and the women third in the second tier.

Oslo 2017 will be the 15th tournament and organisers believe initiatives in hundreds of cities worldwide help 100,000 people a year and have impacted on more than a million lives since its inception.

Image copyright PA
Image caption A pitch was erected in George Square, Glasgow, for the 2016 Homeless World Cup

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