Wed, Jul 20, 2005 - Page 19 News List

UK refuses visas to poor Homeless World Cup players

AP , LONDON

Organizers of the Homeless World Cup soccer tournament in Scotland have accused the British government of hypocrisy for refusing entry to five African teams.

Teams from Kenya, Zambia, Burundi, Cameroon and Nigeria were denied visas to enter the UK for the tournament, which begins today in Edinburgh and pits street soccer teams against each other.

The Foreign Office said the visa applications were turned down because some players had indicated they were too poor to pay their expenses while in Scotland.

A number of players failed to prove they intended to return home after the tournament, the Foreign Office said.

"This really does smack of hypocrisy by the government," said Mel Young, co-founder of the Homeless World Cup, which aims to help homeless people move from the fringes of society through playing soccer.

"On the one hand, we've had all the rhetoric from politicians about the importance of fighting poverty in Africa during G-8," Young said, referring to the summit of the world's richest nations earlier this month in Edinburgh.

"On the other hand, you've got African sportsmen being told they can't play in this tournament because they're too poor. It's madness," Young said.

In a posting on the tournament's Web site, Kenya team organizer Siegfried Milchberger wrote: "It is a great sorrow that we were denied to play soccer in the UK. How can they say that we are too poor to play football? It leaves me wondering what London Olympics 2012 has in store for Africa."

The tournament started in 2003 with 18 countries sending homeless players to games in Austria. Last year, the tournament was held in Goteborg, Sweden.

The 27 nations competing for this year's Homeless World Cup trophy include Spain, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Ukraine, the UK, Ireland and Portugal.

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