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National partner profile: Switzerland

Surprise Strassenfussball

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Since 2003, Surprise Strassenfussball have been reintegrating socially disadvantaged people into Swiss society.

Eighteen teams compete in four national tournaments of the Swiss street football league. Teams must be composed of socially disadvantaged adults with a coach and a manager. Players are often street paper vendors, affected by mental illness, unemployed people, seeking asylum, or suffer from substance abuse.

The league has two levels of competition for different abilities to make sure the games are fair, and the eight players chosen to play on the Swiss national team are from both levels. The team selection criteria are not only based on football skills, but on motivation and self-improvement also.

The national ambassadors of Surprise Strassensport are former FIFA referee, Nicole Petignat, and former Swiss national player, Dominique Herr. They are actively involved in their tournaments and training and refereeing programmes.

Surprise also organise a refereeing and a coaching course. Involvement of former players is encouraged – their current head referee is a former player. If, for example, a player wishes to set up their own team after having been part of the programme for a while, Surprise provide advice and support.

Street football is just one of Surprise's programmes that address marginalisation in various ways. They also run a street paper, a choir, and guided walking tours of Swiss cities led by homeless people or people who are otherwise marginalised.

Their sponsors are Hyundai and Erdgas.

Player profiles & Stories

Mission statement

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The aim of Surprise Strassenfussball is to offer “help to help yourself” to as many people as possible, and they aim to continuously grow their services and their league. Their own research, as well as research from the Homeless World Cup, shows the success and efficiency of this project, which combines sport and fun with reintegration.

"Thanks to Strassenfussball, participants connect with a new social group more easily since sport offers a healthy way to overcome problems in one’s life.” - Nicole Petignat

Goals for the future

Capacity Expansion

To spread their established model to other cities, find new Swiss referees to support the programme, and to make a TV documentary to showcase the project in the Italian region

Programme Development

To develop new street football rules that emphasise fair play

Infrastructure Development

To find an indoor space for the Surprise pitch to expand activities

Tournaments

To attend the 2015 Homeless World Cup with 50 scarves, hand-knitted by supporters and to be given away to opposing teams as a token of friendship

Additional information

Partner since

2003

Football Activities

They run weekly training sessions, a street football league, various tournaments and events throughout the year.

Team selection

The league run by Surprise has two levels of ability. Players for the national squad are chosen from both levels. Attitude and commitment to progress form an important part of the selection criteria.

Non-football services

Surprise run a street paper, choir, walking tours led by homeless people, and provide referral to other services (e.g. health services, job centres).

Participants challenges

Participants often deal with unemployment, mental health problems, and substance abuse.

Country challenges

Although Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world, around 600,000 people live below poverty line, meaning they do not have enough income to provide for their subsistence and to cover high expenses related to food, transportation and housing (Swiss Info, 2014).

Homlessness definition

Switzerland does not have a legal definition of homelessness, but the Zürich City Council Home- and Rooflessness Department has four different categories of homelessness and distinguishes between “accommodation emergencies” (an acute danger of losing one’s accommodation), houselessness (a state of actually having lost one’s accommodation, resulting in staying with friends, etc.), “communal” homelessness (those staying in shelters), and “open” homelessness (rough sleepers). (Tillburg University, 2014, Armut Halbieren, 2015)

Homelessness Statistics

There are no official numbers regarding homelessness in Switzerland (Wilco, 2013). While homelessness is not very visible in the country, it does exist (The Guardian, 2014). Swiss Med Weekly reported in 2005 that the number of beds available for homeless people per night in the Canton Zürich increased between 2000 and 2003 by more than 17%.

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