Dr Dan Parnell




Resilience and the Homeless World Cup


As the dust settles on the 2015 Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam, our contributors Dr Dan Parnell, Dr Kathryn Curran and Nicolás Miranda consider the impact of the event.

“We are already champions for just being here. The result is not important. Because we have overcome problems much worse than losing a football match.”

Horacio Garcia, the captain of Team Argentina is talking about his experiences and reflections at the most recent Homeless World Cup, staged in Amsterdam. He explains the comparisons between wins and losses in life and in football.

“When you lose in life, you have to fight so hard to be able to pick yourself up for the next day, and that’s worth much more than just winning or losing a game.”

We were fortunate enough to spend time at the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam, and it is apparent that there are many more stories and philosophies similar to Horacio’s which echo the resounding resilience of the players. They are abundant, compelling and powerful.


This notion of resilience can be defined as an individual’s ability to cope with adverse events in life, and having the ability to overcome his or her difficulties. In football, the term ‘bouncebackability’ has been coined – but maybe there is more to it than just bouncing back.

In 2014 the Indonesia team arrived at the Homeless World Cup with only eight players, selected from the streets of different parts of the nation, but who were all HIV positive. It was a similar situation for them this year. For what, to many, could be a reason for hopelessness and despair, for them is a reason to reinvent themselves constantly and nurture their hope on the small triumphs that they witness each day.

Yudah Purnama was one of the best goalkeepers of this year´s World Cup in Amsterdam, leading his team to first place in their category. However you could see him smiling after every goal scored against him. When asked why he did this, he explained: “Many times in my life, joy is scarce – that is why. If I can find happiness on other people`s achievements, that means I will also find a little bit of joy for myself.”

He left the pitch proud and strong after each win but more importantly, regardless what the final score showed, he walked away happier and taller than before.

The best female player of the 2015 Homeless World Cup, wasn´t Brazilian, Dutch or Argentinian player; she was the India captain, Reena Panchal.


Reena joined the street football team from her neighbourhood without telling her family, because she knew she would not have their permission. After being selected for the national team, she had to talk to them and, after much discussion, she finally got their blessing, albeit with the following advice: “She is a girl. If something happens to her, it will be an insult to all of the family.”

Girls from the slums in India have little or no chance of development; their goal is to help their families get enough food and shelter until the next week.

However in Amsterdam, Reena enjoyed every game. She cheered her adversaries and danced with her team-mates. She scored 15 goals in total and was selected as the best female player.

When asked about her plans for when she returned home, she replied: “I want to make everyone proud of my strength. So that people can realise that I overcame my circumstances and I made it. I want to create a team of my own and help others play for India and for themselves too.”

Life stories of strength, effort and courage demonstrate that when living in adverse situations, adaptive flexibility becomes an integral part of people’s coping mechanisms and ultimately, their way of living.

Resilience is the stuff that allows people like Reena and Yudah to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Failure could overcome and drain the resolve of these people, they could throw the towel in, but somehow they find a way to rise again. From our experience within the Homeless World Cup, this extends beyond keeping a positive attitude, being optimistic, managing emotions and using failure to develop.


Nicolás Miranda supported the organisation and management of the Homeless World Cup 2014 in Chile. Since then he has joined the English Homeless FA in their ambitious endeavours with people experiencing homelessness in the UK.

Reflecting on his time with the organisation, he said: “I have seen how resilience for Homeless World Cup players can be achieved under four principles:

  1. a) observing life as a continuum: they are experiencing homelessness, yet homelessness does not define them.
  2. b) having a sense of perspective: the situations they come across can be perceived as defeats and setbacks, or as empowering challenges, and this is dependent solely on their individual viewpoint from which they analyse their life events.
  3. c) moving forward: they are able to use their inner voice to help them keep pushing forward under the toughest of moments.
  4. d) social support: networks of social support provide the necessary feedback as well as a different perception of failures versus achievements. This feedback that their peers and supporters can offer, often serves as an encouraging boost that helps them continue moving forward after difficult situations.”

Dr Kathryn Curran is leading an innovative research project exploring the Public Health impact of the English Homeless FA programme and the Homeless World Cup.


Kathryn revealed: “Homeless men are amongst the most excluded groups in society and consistently identify stigma, discrimination and exclusion as major barriers to health and quality of life. The Homeless World Cup was established in 2001 as a tool to energise homeless people to change their lives. Through this, resilience has emerged during the initial observations as a contributing factor to behaviour change.”

It is worth framing homelessness in its current context in Britain. Dr Dan Parnell said: “Homelessness is a major national and local issue. We have observed the result of the unstable economic climate and subsequent policy measures that have reduced funding for key serves.

“Indeed, for those experiencing homelessness austerity measures have not simply been meaningless changes to a spreadsheet in Westminster, it has been real, observable and experienced.

“Those people experiencing homelessness are facing further inequalities, as a result of the withdrawal of funding for those charities and public sector services at the forefront of providing care and support.”

So as the Homeless World Cup ends, as attendees return to their home countries, the journey continues for the participants. They will continue their match, striving for their personal success, but now knowing they are not alone. They will be with their experiences and with their team, who – in their words – are their family.

About the authors

Dr Dan Parnell is a Senior Lecturer and active researcher in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. Contact or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter.

Dr Kathryn Curran is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health at Leeds Beckett University. Kathryn’s research focuses on investigating the effectiveness of community physical activity and health interventions primarily with socially disadvantaged groups. Contact or follow @kathryn_curran on Twitter.

Nicolas Miranda is a Physiotherapist and Sport Scientist from Chile. He has worked with the Homeless World Cup Foundation managing healthcare delivery for the 2014 World Cup and with the English Homeless FA overseeing health and wellbeing management and workshop delivery throughout the World Cup in Amsterdam. Contact

Click here for more information on the Homeless World Cup. 

Click here for more information on the Homeless FA.

Article was published on Connect Sport here.

World Cup 2014: festival of football or alcohol?

Following the World Cup 2014 a number of journalists and academics highlighted and discussed the controversy of corporate influence the balance between sponsorship requirements and corporate social responsibility. Below is a rapid communication we, Stephen Zwolinsky, Jim McKenna, Andy Pringle and Dan Parnell had published in the British Medical Journal.

Re: World Cup 2014: festival of football or alcohol?

Gornall [1] highlights that ‘intangible benefits’ and ‘lasting legacies’ emerging from major sporting events like the World Cup are seldom clear. Yet, the widespread assumption of many lay individuals, and some government representatives, is that major sporting events represent a form of fairy dust – a panacea – for a nation’s ills. These perceptions are often wholly inadequate given the scale of the problems facing many hosting countries.

Worse, these assumptions may be toxic; they can blind us to the existing risks that are difficult to manage whilst also introducing further risks. The tensions between sponsors – whose products can negatively impact on wellbeing – and organisers need to be balanced against the interests of consumers. Ignoring the complexities of commercial ‘influence’ supports crude and ill-founded approximations about the universal benefits of major sporting events.

Yet there is something virtuous about the power of specific sports. In football, and specifically community-based health interventions, this is clear especially when commercial influence is absent. While health care systems typically struggle to engage ‘at risk’ groups, interventions linked to these football clubs readily engage groups previously abandoned under the label of ‘hard-to-reach’. These interventions have demonstrated statistically significant reductions in alcohol consumption, while increasing physical activity and improving diet [2]. They can also generate clinically significant reductions in weight [3].

Whilst there can be a tangible positive legacy from mega sporting events, the bulk of this benefit must not be felt by – amongst others – the alcohol industry [1]. Mega events certainly have potential for improving health, but at this point, that is all it is, potential. Hard evidence is needed to confirm the lasting positive effects of mega events. In the meantime, we already have persuasive evidence that justifies deploying a bottom-up approach and building on the work undertaken at a community level.

References –
1. Gornall J. World Cup 2014: festival of football or alcohol? BMJ (Clinical research ed) 2014;348:g3772 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g3772[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
2. Pringle A, Zwolinsky S, McKenna J, et al. Health improvement for men and hard-to-engage-men delivered in English Premier League football clubs. Health education research 2014;29(3):503-20 doi: 10.1093/her/cyu009[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
3. Hunt K, Wyke S, Gray CM, et al. A gender-sensitised weight loss and healthy living programme for overweight and obese men delivered by Scottish Premier League football clubs (FFIT): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 2014;DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62420-4

For the original article please click here.


Prince Harry’s Invictus Games is raising awareness of the achievements of injured armed forces personnel and the games have once again spurred conversations about the legacy of big sporting events – in this case how the event might benefit injured personnel in years to come. One leading consultancy firm has already pledged that the games will change the way they hire and include injured personnel in their business.


The potential for mega-events such as the World Cup and the Olympics to deliver benefits and messages is huge, and yet, despite the piles of money and the promises, all too often they fail on this promise.

The sporting world, and especially football, is in a commercially indulgent era of mega-events. But despite increasing talk of legacies and importantly, whether the money in matches the money out, some have argued that the 2012 Olympics Gamesdidn’t increase participation in sport. Perhaps the biggest miss of the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil was the absence of any aligned social welfare or health-promotion strategy.

It’s a shame. With such investment, they have the potential to help tackle some big health issues linked to lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity and coronary heart disease. One good example was the European Championship in 2012. A study into its health legacy found a number of impressive potential health outcomes in host countries Poland and Ukraine. It found health promotion, vaccination awareness and better emergency preparedness were achieved through increased partnership between the World Health Organisation, governments and hospitals. Yet many of us are still sceptical about the ability of mega-events to always do this.

Unhealthy profits matter more

On his HBO talkshow, comedian John Oliver lampooned the tactics of FIFA, football’s governing body, for pressuring Brazil into lifting a ban on alcohol sales at stadiums during the World Cup – the so-called “Budweiser Bill”, named after one of the major sponsors. In the British Medical Journal, journalist Jonathan Gornall criticised FIFA’s so-called “festival of football”, instead likening it to a festival of alcohol.

This shows the potential impact FIFA and mega-events can have in the way they influence major law and policy change in countries. Unfortunately, this example paid little attention to the health legacy of the event.

The fact is that health promotion is often neglected at mega-events. Despite the positive rhetoric around events like the World Cup, the story afterwards tends to be disappointing.

Wasn’t always the case

Gone are the early days of the health promotion that featured on the players shirts, such as West Bromwich Albion’s Health Education Council messages or encouraging safe sex at Millwall.

But let’s not despair, there is a growing body of evidence that football – at least at grassroots and club level – can and is making a difference. This includes football helping communities and fans lose weight, as seen in the Scottish Premier League, football engaging with those who would be labelled “hard to reach” – like promoting better health engagement in older men as seen at Everton Football Club, and improving lifestyles in the English Premier League Men’s Health programme to help prevent the onset of diseases such as obesity in later life.

There have also been two recent academic special issues published, that were dedicated to the social role of football and the health outcomes of playing football, with the latter funded by FIFA. And platforms such as Responsiball and the European Health Stadia Network who offer case studies, reports and research with detailed examples of best practices across Europe and further afield. These examples offer FIFA with the evidence and guidance on what will work to improve health through football – though we have yet to see any of these lessons implemented or incorporated into mega-events.

No thanks to any legacy

None of these successes of these schemes come from the impact of mega-events and the often exaggerated claims around increasing participation. Instead, they come from the everyday brilliance of football staff, supporters and local communities. Many projects that achieve these health wins are managed by the social responsibility functions of the football clubs themselves, from premier league teams like Everton down to League Two teams such as Burton Albion FC.

There is no doubt that FIFA will continue to disappoint host countries, governments, politicians and the people that make up the football community. Audacious claims about “the power of football” from mega-events that don’t materialise is sadly widespread. Perhaps FIFA can look more closer at its Football for Health 11 lessons – notably number four: “Avoid Drugs and Alcohol”, to which FIFA has somehow managed to pay little attention.

While the majority of people who make up the audiences around the world forget about the broader health responsibility of FIFA – a multi-billion pound not-for-profit (yes, it operates as a non-profit) – because of the magic of Messi, Velencia, Neymar, Robben and Rodríguez, it’s time for for more attention and change.

It’s not a call to stop watching big events (unlikely to happen) but we can refuse to accept the status quo. As the commercial value of mega-events continues to grow, we must begin to challenge those involved in the organisation and delivery to get serious about health. We need to challenge them to use the evidence of what we know works to ensure their sporting mega-events live up to the spirit they so often claim.

This post first appeared on The Conversation


There is a something rather numbing, dissatisfying and disenchanting about supporting England. My overwhelmingly low expectations were thoroughly met, compliments of the Uruguayans; it’s like being on the wrong end of a ‘hospital ball’. The final whistle resulted in an en masse exodus of lads and girls from the pubs and clubs, while those who were missing out on normal social exchanges due to their partner’s extra-marital affair with football quickly reclaimed the remote. This all illustrates that football represents a massively social and personally meaningful experience for many of us. At the same time, few of us consider or are aware of the role that football can play in social change, health improvement and what the potential legacy of mega-sport event like this could be.


The frenzy, intensity and turmoil that we display in our following of football sits side-by-side the dissatisfaction of many Brazilians’ with the World Cup. Given that the tournament combines two known passions of the Brazilian people, football and celebration, many have been captivated in the emerging narrative of discontent and anger. Indeed, the pre-World-Cup groundswell of (social) media interest was primarily focused on the widespread protests of Brazilians. Their discontentment stems from a multitude of issues including (but not confined to) two key areas: corruption and lack of basic services, especially in health care and education.

This controversy runs counter to the growing narrative that mega-events bring positive advantages to the host country. Yet, there has been little discussion regarding the potential – or actual – positive health legacy of the World Cup. What is there to celebrate in Brazil’s health and education services that is attributable to the World Cup? More widely, what policy, knowledge and skill transfer was incorporated in the planning of this World Cup?
There is also an emerging evidence-base that proposes that some lines of sponsorship generate a largely unacknowledged level of harm. Over the past few weeks, I have contributed to an emerging discourse that contests the influence and power of alcohol companies (i.e., the Budweiser Law) and their blatant disregard for the health of communities of fans. I have also been fortunate to celebrate the publication of a co-edited Special Issue on Football and Inclusivity, which addresses many of under-explored issues of the role of football in society. In another special issue we have seen the strong case for the benefits of football for health detailed. This included a co-edited article by Sepp Blatter (FIFA President), where much of his usual hyperbole was given a day-off. Similarly, The Lancet published an article on the developed and potential health legacy of Euro 2012. This research cumulatively evidences the real and tangible benefits of football for influencing a range of social issues, especially health. With this background, there must at least be hope that this World Cup can bequeath a degree of legacy.

My conclusion for this World Cup echoes my expectations for England’s performance; slim chances of success. Yet, I foster a real hope that the poor decision-making (by FIFA and their friends), and the global reaction to it, will drive a global movement for action and change. It is obviously important to change how host nations are awarded and supported to deliver effective World Cups and to ensure that such mega-events can capitalize on the potential health legacy benefits.

In the meantime, my opinion is that we don’t need a World Cup to capitalize on the day-to-day mega-event that is football. Football is in our back gardens and on our street; we play it with our children and with friends, it is played for fun or competition. We control all these events. So, in the spirit of offering a friendly challenge, let me challenge you. Take time to enjoy and play our game, making our own legacies, with the people we connect with and love.

…and as you do, look forward to what will certainly be a controversial build-up to the Olympic Games 2016 in Brazil.

For the original blog post click here.

World Cup woes and social change

With the World Cup finals weeks away one cannot help, but get clawed into the buzz and hype of the beautiful game in some way shape or form.  Whether thats playing football or some other form of consumption like the Nike’s latest advert!  I know I have certainly been playing in the street more with my little boy, but maybe that’s because the football season is over and I am missing my weekly dose!  As most of ‘us’ will be discussing our respective national team selection permutations,  whether Van Gaal is thinking about Hollands performance or Man Utd’s pre-season transfer market antics, or whilst the academic ‘us’ discuss the latest innovative ambush marketing ploy or even the more social of ‘us’ the best World Cup selfie…we could be forgiven for forgetting or at least brushing off the drama that is unfolding on the streets of Brazil.


Whilst the riots have received plenty of coverage, we cannot forget the actual reality of the government spending money on a mega event like the World Cup when a nation is suffering (its not like we have seen this before either).  Without this World Cup having even kicked off, people are beginning to talk of the ‘power’ of football and the World Cup to create social change in Qatar.   This rhetoric is nothing new – many believe in the the power of sport and some people are more cynical (check much of Fred Coalter’s literature for the latter).  Forgetting the distant World Cup on far off shores – ‘us’ Brits could ask “what has this got to do with us?’.

In the United Kingdom, the British Government have positioned sport a key delivery agent on a number of major social welfare issues including education, crime, inclusion and health improvement.  Despite, relatively large amounts of Government funding proliferating from the public purse (through the Football Foundation, Sport England etc) into football based social change projects often delivered by professional football clubs – very little is actually known around how effective these projects are.

In this regard, there is very little evaluation in place across football based health interventions (and even fewer in sport based interventions).  This prompted my interest in developing and editing a Special Issue on Football and Inclusivity that is due for online publication in the Journal Soccer and Society in the coming weeks.  In preparation for this I offer a brief insight into the contribution list below, but will look to offer perspectives into each article over the coming months.

I have made it clear in previous posts that I do believe football can be a powerful tool to impact local communities.  Most of my research interests have surrounded this, whether its using football as a vehicle for health improvement or to tackle anti-social behaviour.  BUT there is clearly a need to better understand how football (and sport) can better help local communities and society. More importantly, this Special Issue highlights a landmark move on what I called for in my first ever blog post (approx. 2 years ago) – the NEED for researchers and academics to (amongst others including the Government and National Governing Bodies) TO provide MORE HELP to those delivering on the these social change projects.  Hopefully, this Special Issue and blogs begin’s the narrative for further research and action to help those working on the ground.

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