Homeless footballers playing in Paris

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am


Eight young Hongkongers have swapped a life of drug addiction for soccer shirts and the chance to represent their home town at the Homeless World Cup, which starts in Paris this afternoon.

In its ninth year, the tournament brings teams of homeless football players to one city to compete for the title. It was founded by world-renowned social entrepreneur Mel Young, who also started the Scottish edition of The Big Issue, a British magazine sold by homeless people.

This is the sixth time Hong Kong has sent a team to the tournament and for Ethan Wu Chung-man, 25, the chance to represent the city has changed his life dramatically.

Ten years ago, when he was just 15, Wu got his first taste of ketamine. By his 17th birthday he was spending HK$200 every day for a hit.

His wake-up call came when he was 22 and police arrested him for possession of drugs. His health had deteriorated from years of drug abuse, which had caused stomach and urinary problems.

'My father was also sick because he was worried about me and I had borrowed so much money to pay for the drugs,' he said. 'I was so lonely and unhappy. I may have died if the police hadn't caught me.'

Wu spent six months at a rehabilitation and cleaned himself up. Since then, he has stayed on at the centre as a volunteer, helping others kick their habit. 'I wanted to do something good for society,' he said.

The team, along with coach Leung Chi-wing, left on Thursday. Before boarding, Wu was all smiles. 'I'm excited because this is my first time on a plane and my first time overseas,' the defender, who lists Italian player Alessandro Nesta as his hero, said. 'The team is like a family to me. I know my skills aren't that good but they accept me.'

The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) and the Wofoo Foundation helped the team raise HK$15,000 for the trip. The tournament started in 2003 in Austria and has been held all over the world.