“When people see us by the side of the street, they say we are street boys. But when they see us play football, they say that we are people like them. They are people like us.” Andile, Team South Africa 2010
Ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, a group of families visited Umthombo, a street child organisation based in Durban, South Africa. They heard first hand about Umthombo’s long-running campaign to end the illegal practice by police and security forces of ‘rounding up’ children living on the streets and dumping them outside the city. After South Africa was announced as the FIFA World Cup host country, the round-ups only intensified.
This cruel practice is illegal yet it is seen in cities around the world where children live on the streets. The work of frontline organisations like Umthombo prove there is a future for these children away from the streets but this requires ensuring their protection, support and access to opportunities.
Street children, and the organisations that support them, needed a unique platform where they could be seen and their voices heard – a World Cup for street children.
“In Durban we would be pointing a spotlight on a long running dispute between a blunt ‘secuity-led’ approach to street children, and Umthombo’s call for compassionate responses that addressed the reasons why children were on the streets.” Street Child World Cup
Three founding partners, Amos Trust, Momentum Arts and Action for Brazil’s Children Trust (ABC Trust) came together to organise the inaugural Street Child World Cup.
Eight frontline street child organisations from across the world signed up and picked their teams to both represent their country and act as positive role models for those children still on the streets.
These children needed visas, passports and birth certificates in order to even board the planes – identification documents that almost all of the children simply did not have because they came from the streets. Corporates, individuals, trusts and charities came on board pledging their support. More and more footballers and other well-known figures endorsed the project and the media started to show huge interest.
The momentum we had been pushing for was there and suddenly we were being pulled along. The audacious idea had turned into names on plane tickets, food ordered and footballs inflated.
2,000 supporters packed into the Durban University Technology Sports Hall blowing vuvuzelas and banging drums for a very South African opening ceremony. They roared as the teams of former street children from South Africa, Tanzania, Burundi, The Philippines, India, England, Brazil, and Ukraine proudly walked out onto the pitch wearing their national colours and carrying their national flags – from perceived zeroes to heroes.
As the world watched the Street Child World Cup, the round-ups were reported internationally creating a tipping-point for the Umthombo-led campaign. As a result the round-ups were stopped in Durban. The police now work with Umthombo to find ways to support the city’s children at risk of the streets.
Alongside the football the children took part in a festival of arts and conference where they identified key changes needed to better protect and support street children. Teams produced country manifestos which formed The Durban Declaration – a call to action from the children of the Street Child World Cup that was presented to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The best thing for me was the conference. I never knew other children had gone through what I’d gone through – maybe together we can make a difference.” Anton, Team Ukraine 2010
By challenging how street children were seen in Durban, the Street Child World Cup helped end the negative treatment of them. A movement had started with its eyes set on Brazil ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And so Street Child United formed in 2011, a charity determined to harness the power of sport to create change for street children worldwide. The flagship event would remain the Street Child World Cup but a community of incredible frontline partners was growing around the world standing united for the rights of street children.
“When ever people come across me they laugh. It seems like my mouth is zipped because they talk for us. I wish they could give us a chance to talk for ourselves.”
“It was a privilege to be invited to the launch of the Street Child World Cup at Downing Street. It gives children a voice through football, sales a platform to express their rights and celebrate their abilities – I’m proud to add my support.”
“No child should have to live on the streets and I fully endorse this campaign giving street children a voice to claim their rights”