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Homeless Athletes Seek to Stay in Australia 


Players in the Homeless World Cup football tournament, including competitors from Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, are reported to have sought asylum in Australia.

So far, 15 soccer players who competed in the Homeless World Cup in the southern city of Melbourne have applied for permission to stay in the country.

Eight players are from Afghanistan and seven from Zimbabwe. The Australian Department of Immigration confirms they applied for "further visas" but a spokesman would not say whether they had formally sought asylum.

News reports say that all of the members of the Liberian women's homeless team missed their flights home after the tournament closed on Sunday, and a player from Kenya is missing.

Paul Power from the Refugee Council of Australia says it would be no surprise if competitors from some troubled nations wanted to apply to stay.

"It is also almost inevitable that a small number of people will remain behind to claim asylum," he said. "Just because they claim asylum it does not mean they will necessarily get it. I mean, the process in Australia like in other countries is quite rigorous and each applicant will need to present fairly strong grounds for a well-founded fear of persecution."

Competitors in the Homeless World Cup were given so-called active visas, which expire in 10 days.

Officials say so far none have violated their visas conditions.

Homeless World Cup organizers say that 15 African players went missing in Denmark after last year's tournament and it was to be expected that there would be similar applications after matches in Melbourne.

Forty athletes and officials sought asylum in Australia after the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, while 250 pilgrims applied for refugee visas after July's World Youth Day festivities in Sydney.

The sixth annual Homeless World Cup attracted more than 500 players from more than 50 countries.

The competitors have all been homeless within the past two years and bring with them stories of triumph over adversity after battling the effects of drugs, mental illness and broken relationships. Afghanistan beat Russia to take the men's cup this year, while Zambia defeated Liberia to win the women's championship.

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