SAO PAULO —
Forget the sumptuousness that surrounds the stars of this month's World Cup in Brazil, young men and women from the fringes of society wearing mismatched shirts took center stage on Monday on the busy streets of Sao Paulo.
A “Street Soccer World Cup” kicked-off Monday in Brazil's biggest city, with players from two dozen nations across the world all linked to movements seeking social change.
The opening match of the week-long tournament was held at Largo da Batata, the scene last year of massive anti-World Cup protests attended by Brazilians angry at the event's multi-billion dollar budget in a country lacking good quality services in key areas such as public health and education.
“All participants belong to social movements,” Antonio Eleilson Leite, one of the organizers, told Reuters.
“These guys come from the outskirts of their cities,” he added. “Soccer has a unique integration power, like no other sport.”
The event is in many ways the World Cup of those living on the fringes of society and excluded of the official tournament being held in 12 Brazilian cities including Sao Paulo.
On Monday the atmosphere was festive and rivals even celebrated each other's goals. There were players from distant countries such as Ghana, Israel and South Africa.
Supported in the past by FIFA, this year's “Street Soccer World Cup” was entirely financed with donations from companies and individuals.
“I'm very excited about this,” said Nkosazana Bothma, who came from Alexandra, a poor Johannesburg township, who could not attend any games when the World Cup was held in her country four years ago.
“I've never represented South Africa until now. But I'm here now and it feels really good,” she said.