Five African football teams have been refused entry to Britain to play in this week's Homeless World Cup held in Edinburgh. Players from five African nations set to compete in the tournament for the first time have been issued with a blanket ban after British embassies withheld their visas – a decision branded “disgraceful” by organisers. Homeless footballers from Burundi, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia were told last week they could not travel to Edinburgh because of fears that they may not return home.
Mel Young, director of the event which is currently in its third year, blamed a lack of understanding by UK officials for the last-minute decisions. He said,
“Our government has really let us down because they've almost deliberately misunderstood what the event is about. The whole point of the competition is that people who are homeless or living in poverty participate and make progress in their lives. We've been working with the government for some weeks, advising them on the situation and the status of the participants.”
The latest report on the impact of last year's tournament in Sweden revealed that it had a positive impact on the lives of 90% of the people taking part; nearly half improved their housing situation, over a third pursued education and half came off drugs and alcohol.
“They've been refused entry to the country, in my opinion, because they're poor. The official reason is that they don't have connections in their home country that mean they will return. They were asked questions like whether they have a bank account and a house. Of course they don't.”
“Blair and Brown make great speeches about ending poverty in Africa but there's not much substance. We've got a project here that's really working, it makes a huge impact on the lives of participants and they're basically preventing that.”
The two remaining African football teams, Namibia and South Africa, will compete against a further 25 nations in the five-day event, which has been credited with transforming the lives of participants. The tournament kicks off from the Mound to Ross Bandstand on Wednesday at 11am, with performances from El Presidente and Scottish pipers. Entry is free.