Soccer-'Homeless Euro 2024' kicks off beside main tournament


Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Homeless Euro 2024 - Hamburg, Germany - June 17, 2024 Germany players on their way to the stadium before the match REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Under-privileged people from eight nations began competing on Monday in a "Homeless Euro 2024" tournament running parallel to the main championship and intended to share the joys of football with those who have suffered on the street.

Teams from Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden paraded into Hamburg's fan zone at the start of the week-long event organised by a local charity and funded by donations.

"Football has given me a second chance," said Mario La Torre, 24, recounting years of criminality and drug-taking in Stockholm before turning his life around. "Look at me: now I'm shooting balls, but before I was shooting other things."

Without the glitz and glamour of the main Euro 2024, the alternative version started in front of a smattering of people at a small pitch inside the fan zone. Four-person teams of both men and women played games of seven-minute halves.

'HAVE SOME FUN'

Johan Grasshoff, one of the organisers of the event with the charity Anstoss (Kickoff), said it was important to highlight the issue of homelessness to those who did not understand it.

"People often say it is their own fault if people are homeless, but that is not true. The main factor is the lack of housing and the high cost of rent," he said.

"We want to focus society on that. And for a few days all the players can forget about their problems and have some fun and gain some power for the future."

Some of the participants have also participated in the "Homeless World Cup", whose last edition was in the U.S.

"This is like my second family," beamed Polish player Patryk Bialek, 24. He described taking drugs for eight years and sleeping under a bridge before he went for rehabilitation, rebuilt his life - and rediscovered a boyhood love of football.

"I can't believe I'm playing again - and here!" he said, the day after the Polish national team had also played in Hamburg.

(Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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