Actor Michael Sheen described the opening of the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff as “hugely emotional” after the tournament began on Saturday.
The competition sees people who have experienced social exclusion such as homelessness represent their countries in 4 v 4 games, and Sheen played a big part bringing it to Wales.
The Good Omens star issued a rallying cry to the assembled crowd and players in Bute Park, asking them to “spread your dragon wings wide, to take off into our Welsh skies and proudly to fly” ahead of the Welsh men’s opening game against Denmark.
“Today has been hugely emotional, particularly early on when we were doing the parade through Cardiff,” Sheen told PA.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, so just on that level it means a huge amount that we’re actually here.
“It’s the opportunity for people’s lives to be changed. Having been to other Homeless World Cups in the past, travelling with the Welsh teams, I’ve seen how the Welsh players who took part in that, how their lives have changed since, so I know that this works.”
Wales are one of almost 50 nations taking part in the week-long event which will see around 500 men and women competing and socialising.
The first tournament took place in 2003 in Austria and it is entering its 17th edition in Wales. It is thought more than a million people have been impacted by the competition and its programmes.
Welshman Sheen continued: “To see people wearing their country’s shirt – some of the most marginalised and excluded people – meeting people who’ve had similar experiences but of completely different cultures, it creates the opportunity for change.
“The coach of the Welsh men’s team, Wayne, told me the other day that when things were at their worst for him – he’d come out of prison, he was homeless – he used to spend his time in this park because he had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.
“He said to me, ‘I’m going to walk back into that same park, and I’m the coach of the Welsh men’s team. I have a home, I have a full-time job, I have a partner who I met in Mexico at last year’s World Cup. My life has completely changed around as a result of being involved with this’.
“There are 500 potential Waynes out there (at the tournament) now – that’s amazing, to know that this could do that for people.”