As the FIFA World Cup 2010 attracts soccer fans worldwide, another tournament in South Africa is also gaining international attention: the Poor People's World Cup in Cape Town.
The local tournament was organized by the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC). Running parallel with the FIFA games, it aims to highlight the province's struggle against rampant poverty and homelessness.
Speaking to CNN, AEC coordinator Ashraf Cassiem said, "It's a platform created by poor people, for poor people, to expose the evictions and displacements affecting poor people in a negative way."
Cassiem said, "Everybody is crazy excited about it. More than 1,500 turned up despite a lack of transport for fans or communities. People here are real crazy about soccer but won't get the opportunity to participate in the real FIFA World Cup."
Organizers say the games are a way to protest what they call the exclusion of poor communities from the FIFA games and the negative impact of the World Cup on the poor and homeless. Most South Africans are not benefiting from the official World Cup, they add.
AEC activists say the FIFA World Cup excludes the poor with high-priced tickets people cannot afford. The cheapest tickets cost $20, which is more than some people earn in a week.
The FIFA World Cup also forces many out of work because street vendors are not allowed to sell their merchandise near the official stadiums. Activists also claim that poor South Africans, especially the homeless, have been moved to "temporary relocation centers" to be hidden from visiting soccer tourists.
The Poor People's World Cup features 36 teams representing over 40 different communities from the Cape Town area, allowing them to play the one thing they like most: soccer.
The free three-week event kicked off June 13. The games are being played at a field next to Athlone stadium in Cape Town and the final games will be played on June 27.
The competing teams have been named after most countries in the FIFA games but also include teams named Haiti, Somalia, Palestine and Zimbabwe.
Organizers note this tournament is not only for soccer teams and fans, but also for the whole community and for the people who struggle every day against water and electricity cut-offs and against evictions from their homes and working places.
It's not right that poor South Africans continue to suffer, while the rich are enjoying themselves in the expensive stadiums at the expense of the poor, activists charge.
In contrast to the FIFA World Cup, organizers of the Poor People's World Cup say their tournament is for the poor communities by the poor communities that will not exploit or marginalize people but rather involve them and create new spaces of exposure and participation.
Activists say the South African government should do more to provide better housing for the poor rather than spending millions on new soccer stadiums for the FIFA games.
They express the hope that soccer tourists and official FIFA teams find the time to visit the Poor People's World Cup as a way to see what's really happening in South Africa.
Photo: The under-nines team from Hanover Park on the opening day of the Poor People's World Cup. (Anti-Eviction Campaign)