He was homeless, addicted to drugs, and most likely destined to a life of crime had it not been for the only positive thing in his life – the game of soccer. Now Salman, who ran away from home at the age of 13, has the chance to shine on the word stage for his country; Pakistan.
Currently 16, he will be one of hundreds of kids from around the world, representing 19 nations, at the 2014 Street Child World Cup which kicks off in Brazil on Friday.
“In my past life I was like a street urchin, using drugs, running away from school and studies. I was an addict,” he said. “We didn't know what we were doing and what we should do. I was staying away from home.”
For Salman, salvation arrived in the form of a local non-governmental organization, which rescued him from a life on the mean streets of the sprawling port city of Karachi and developed his interest in soccer.
However, the boy’s future can only be secured if his talents continue to be nurtured once the event is over.
El Salvador, USA, Zimbabwe, Argentina, England, Mozambique, Nicaragua, South Africa, Burundi, Indonesia, India, Liberia, Brazil, Egypt, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania and the Philippines are the other countries sending teams to the Street Child World Cup.
Apart from the various socioeconomic problems, once has to take into account that some of these countries are home to the most dangerous streets in the world.
In Brazil, just days before the tournament was set to begin, the host nation’s captain, Rodrigo Kelton, was gunned down yards from his front door in one of Fortaleza’s impoverished favela slums. It was his 14th birthday. He was hit in the shoulder, leg, and twice in the back as revenge for an alleged robbery.
“It was horrible,” said his weeping mother Rosemeire Silva do Nascimento. “No one helped him.
“He was on the ground and his last words to me were ‘Please don’t let me die, Mum.’ But no one could help. It’s the last memory I have of my son.” The teenager was never able to emulate his hero, the Brazilian striker Neymar.
Kids like Rodrigo had the golden opportunity thanks to Amos Trust, a British non-profit organization that convinced FIFA to patronize the tournament. The first world cup, held in South Africa, was won by India, a country never considered a force in the sport.
These young soccer players are undoubtedly aspiring to be stars for their national squads someday. But to get there, it may be necessary for the numerous local and international organizations responsible for bringing them to this stage to hold their hands through a journey that potentially ends at the pinnacle of the sport.
Otherwise, like Rodrigo, many of those from third world nations could see their dreams turned to ash and end up as another statistic on the volatile streets.