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'Kicking It' at the Homeless World Cup

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Kickin' It promotional poster

Considering all the typical hype around the Olympics, watching a film like this is timely for all the right reasons.

Kicking It is a documentary shot at the 2006 Homeless World Cup, then in its fourth year. Shot in Cape Town, South Africa, the film highlights the lives of several participants, who come from seven disparate countries. While the individuals featured in the film hail from places as far apart as the U.S. and Afghanistan, their common struggles as homeless people showcase the shared plight of this segment of our world community.

"A ball can teach you teamwork; a ball can teach you discipline; a ball can make your life better."

I doubt even Noam Chomsky would deny the rehabilitative power of sport in the lives of people suffering from various addictions, isolation and poverty. Certainly, this film celebrates all the positives that soccer can bring to people who have very little to look forward to in their lives.

In Ireland, we meet 23-year-old Damien who has spent years as a heroin addict, and whose mother has kicked him out of the house. Taking part in the tournament is a chance to take a crack at something that’s eluded him until that moment: success.

"I’m over the moon," he tells his mom when he’s picked for the team.

For Alex in Nairobi, Kenya, football is what makes him feel as though life is worth living. It certainly lightens the load as he cleans the toilets in the slum where he lives.  "I think if it was not for football, I would be dead by now," he explains. He’s hoping to be scouted in South Africa -- unlikely, but something to dream of and hope for. It’s enough to inspire the slum’s residents to build their own soccer pitch, though to professionals, it would seem a joke.

Over 300,000 are homeless in Madrid, Spain, where we’re introduced to Jesus, 62. An alcoholic who used to play for Real Madrid, Jesus has an epic moment in the film when his team finally wins at the tournament. He promises to turn his life around -- which he does.

Craig, from the U.S., just wants a family and, with the camaraderie and support he finds on the team, he’s finally able to look optimistically at the future. The anger he displays early on has all but dissipated by the end of the documentary. We’re told by narrator Colin Farrell that upon returning home from the games, Craig is reunited with his mom and sister.

But it is perhaps the Russian team that will resonate most as the world’s attention turns to the Sochi Olympics. Next month, the cameras will be fixated on the well-funded athletes from around the world. There will likely be limited mention, if any, of the five million homeless people who drift from city to city there. The Russian coach in the film, homeless himself, says that his hopes are that the team wins the cup so that the issue will be openly discussed and so that people often thought to be "losers" will be considered "human beings."

This film brilliantly shows the highs and lows of competition, set against the subtle backdrop of the have and have-nots of our world. It illustrates how simple gestures of togetherness can have an impact on people who are down and out.

Whether it’s peace in Afghanistan, living alcohol and drug-free or feeling valued as a person, anything is possible when people believe in themselves.

As one of the founders of the Homeless World Cup, Mel Young, says in the film, sport can help tackle even the most difficult problems in society.

Here at home, Street Soccer Canada, has been the organization participating in this incredible initiative. The upcoming games will be in Santiego, Chile.

Kicking It can be viewed for free at snagfilms.com.

To suggest films for review, email [email protected] or tweet her at @AmiraElghawaby

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