The heartwarming event which shows football’s power for good

The Rio Report

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Another week, another tragedy at one of Brazil’s World Cup stadiums. Four months after the crane collapse that killed two workers at the Arena Corinthians, a fatal accident on the same site on Saturday took the life of Fábio Hamilton da Cruz, 29.

The accident took the death toll for the construction of stadiums to seven. All but two have died since November. “In Brazil things are done last minute,” read a recent article in FIFA’s official magazine. “Everything will be all right, and ready in time. That even goes for the football stadiums.” At best, that outlook is only half-correct. With the crazed rush to complete work costing lives, everything is not all right.

Against this backdrop, it was heartening to see evidence of football’s power to shape the world in a positive manner this week. The Street Child World Cup (SCWC) got underway in Rio on Sunday, bringing together over 200 children between the ages of 13 and 17 from around the world for a 10-day celebration. On the schedule are small-sided games, cultural events and debates, culminating in a declaration of rights at Fluminense’s historic Laranjeiras ground.

The tournament, which took place for the first time in Durban in 2010, aims to shed light on the plight of street children the world over, challenging negative perceptions and mistreatment. By setting up in World Cup host countries, the organisers – who are backed by Save the Children – believe the event will encourage governments to put in place front-line responses to tackle an issue that affects millions.

“We follow the World Cup as we aim to raise as much awareness as possible,” said Joe Hewitt, the head of the SCWC Brazil office. “This is why we're here in Rio in 2014 just ahead of FIFA. Our main aim here is to give the platform to our [local] partners.”

Those travelling to the World Cup this summer will not have to look especially hard to see the severity of the problem. With a significant chunk of the population living below the poverty line, young lives are far more precarious in Brazil than in most developed countries. A 2011 census put the number of street children at almost 25,000 in the country’s 75 biggest cities. Thousands if not millions more suffer violence, go hungry and have limited access to education.

While the SCWC’s remit is global, one hopes that the tournament will serve to highlight the sterling work of local organisations, including IBISS and Criança Não é de Rua, a national network aimed at improving and transforming the lives of street children. With Brazil’s public safety net still riddled with holes due to corruption and political chicanery, these groups and many others pick up the slack at ground level.

That fact is all the more galling this year, of course, with World Cup stadiums sapping even more money from the public purse. Indeed, as the construction rush is pushed through at alarming pace, the contrast between the hands-on approach to change advocated by the SCWC’s and FIFA’s nebulous social aims could hardly be more pronounced.

Not that such comparisons were of any great concern to the hundreds of children and volunteers who gathered at the explosion of colour that was the opening ceremony at the weekend. With World Cup winner Gilberto Silva among those in attendance, the tournament began with a 14-0 victory for Brazil’s girls against Indonesia. Normally that scoreline would be cause for crowing, but at the SCWC results don’t really matter. It’s the sense of community that counts.

Jack Lang - @snap_kaka_pop

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