Pope Francis and Prince William have pledged their support for the Street Child World Cup as the tournament kicked off this weekend in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“The Holy Father is pleased to offer his support to the Street Child World Cup tournament 2014 and cordially imparts to all the participants his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abundant graces,” said Archbishop of Rio Dom Orani Tempesta, adding that the Pope was “pleased to be informed of this significant initiative”.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the event, organized in association with Save the Children to achieve global scale, the archbishop delivered just the latest high-profile endorsement of an initiative that brings 230 street-connected children from 19 countries together to put the spotlight on children’s rights.

Prince William also added his voice to a chorus of high-profile figures, expressing his hope that the event preceding the Fifa World Cup helps to “ensure a bright and happy future” that every child deserves.

“This fantastic tournament shines a spotlight on the 100 million children around the world living on the streets. It unites them through the universal language of football, and gives them a global platform to be heard,” said the Duke of Cambridge, who is president of the Football Association.

Pope Francis and Prince William join David Beckham, Pele and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in backing the 10-day event, which brings street-connected children together to give them a platform and campaign for their rights.

The encouragement from Pope Francis, himself a known Criança Não é da Rua football fan, comes as a particular boost for the Brazilian campaign calling for the first national public policy on street children, Criança Não é da Rua (Children are not of the Street), which the SCWC is backing.

Alongside the football at the SCWC, the children will participate in a festival of arts and the only global street child conference of its kind, which will culminate in the “Rio Rights declaration”. After the inaugural Street Child World Cup contributed to the ending of the brutal practice of “street sweeps” in Durban, South Africa in 2010, this time the talks will held in the knowledge that substantial change is possible. This year, the conference will act as a platform for the campaign Criança Não é da Rua, organised by 300 civil society entities and commissioned by the Brazilian human rights secretariat to draft the public policy.

The intensive ten-day programme encourages enjoyment, exploration and interaction. Most importantly, though, it aims to create a supportive and active forum for “street champions” from around the world to express themselves with confidence and the sense that they can achieve lasting change.

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