Lisa Wrightsman on bringing the Homeless World Cup to California's capital

One of the key organizers of this year’s Homeless World Cup, hosted by Sacramento July 8-15, knows just how life-changing the event can be for its participants. She was one herself.

"I had just gotten past playing college soccer and got into alcohol and drugs really bad,” said Lisa Wrightsman, managing director of Street Soccer USA Sacramento. “I was introduced to the Homeless World Cup early on in my sobriety as an eligible participant.”

That year, 2010, Rio De Janeiro hosted the week-long street soccer-styled tournament, which attracted 450 players from 42 different countries to play at Copacabana beach.

“I played semipro and with the national team a little bit, but I had never experienced soccer this way,” said Wrightsman. “The spirit of the individuals was incredible. Everyone has these really inspiring stories. The way I was treated and seen and respected at that event — when I came back, I was like, 'I don't know how, but more people need to be a part of this.'"

The results aren’t exactly the main objective in this, but Brazil did take top honors in that tournament.

Lisa Wrightsman, co-founder with Tiffany Fraser of Sacramento’s chapter of Street Soccer USA, played for the Sac State Hornets in 1999-2002 and later for the WPSL's Elk Grove and FC Sacramento Pride. In 2010, she played in the Brazil-hosted Homeless World Cup.

Organized between city officials, local soccer nonprofits and the Homeless World Cup Foundation, the idea behind the Homeless World Cup is to provide a platform through soccer to alleviate the isolating effects of someone experiencing homelessness and help them reach a sense of empowerment.

The tournament had run every year since 2003 until the last three were called off due to the pandemic.

Eligibility guidelines state that “Participants must be at least 16 years old, have not taken part in a previous Homeless World Cup tournament, and meet at least one of the following criteria:"

Have been homeless at some point in the last year, in accordance with their country’s definition of homelessness.
Make their main living income as a street paper vendor.
Asylum seekers currently without positive asylum status or who were previously asylum seekers but obtained residency status.
Currently in drug or alcohol rehabilitation and also have been homeless at some point in the past two years.

Most of the athletes coming to the tournament have been engaged with their programs for six months to a year and are “showing progress,” said Wrightsman.

Tournaments usually include 2-3 women’s brackets and 5-6 men’s brackets, divided by levels of competition. The top level is full of high-quality players, while the bottom has players who are just learning the sport. Several trophies are awarded at week’s end and teams play up until the final day of the tournament; in a unique twist, final standings influence seeding for next year’s tournament, to be played by an entire new roster of faces and stories.

Melbourne, Australia hosted the 2008 Homeless World Cup.

This year’s tournament in Sacramento is its first in the USA. The tournament was supposed to be held in the United States last year, said Wrightsman, but when they were pitching it around to big city chapters such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, they all passed.

“For some reason, they didn’t want to be a part of it,” said Wrightsman, who saw the opportunity for her hometown. “We had been doing this work in Sacramento for a while and we have a good relationship with our government. We went to Sacramento State for the idea, who have the housing, cafeteria, fields and other resources, and they were into it.”

In 2020, Street Soccer USA (SSUSA) partnered with Union Pacific Railroad to create The Union Pacific Street Soccer USA Park at 8th Street and Broadway. With two artificial turf fields and a modified shipping container clubhouse, it hosts year-round SSUSA programming for youth and adults. The 2023 Homeless World Cup will played at Sac State's Hornet Stadium.

An American university is the perfect institution to provide the athletes with a comfortable weekling, summer camp-like experience — Wrightsman said it may even teach a course to participants on how to share their story.

“My story was the only thing I had when we built this program in Sacramento,” said Wrightsman. “We know how valuable it is.”

Photos courtesy of Sacramento State Athletics and the Home World Cup.

4 comments about "Lisa Wrightsman on bringing the Homeless World Cup to California's capital".
  1. R2 Dad, January 18, 2023 at 11:32 p.m.

    The idea of flying homeless soccer players half way across the planet for a tournament seems absurd when the state of CA has such a plague of homeless people at the moment and is running a huge deficit due to throwing larger and larger amounts of money at this problem (among other things). Oh well. Never discount the power of virtue signaling.

  2. James Knowles replied, January 27, 2023 at 12:56 p.m.

    Ahh, yes, virtue signaling by different organizations that are not working together like SSUSA,  this individual university, houseless advocacy groups, and... the state of California? It should be noted that if those houseless advocates actually had any sway in the state itself, the issue wouldn't be such a "plague," as you've so empathetically put it. SSUSA wants to shine a light on the issues facing the houseless among us; but, you're too angry they might get some short respite to even look upon it with a smile? What a nice life you must lead. Try some empathy and try some sympathy and you'll see just what the houseless advocacy groups trying to put this on want people to take away: homeless people are people.

  3. cony konstin, January 19, 2023 at 2:20 p.m.

    The Beautiful Game comes from the streets. Let's see who will reign as champion. Best of luck with your event. 

  4. Eric Anderson, January 19, 2023 at 3:17 p.m.

    This is such an inspriing and worthwhile program. It's amazing how something as simple as being part of a soccer team can change people's lives.

    If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching "Kicking It," a documentary on the 2006 event. It's free to view right now on TubiTV.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications