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Nikolas Figueroa is one of more than 500 players turning their lives around with help from the Homeless World Cup

Figueroa's Australian team received one of the daily Fair Play Awards that FIFPRO presented at the tournament in Cardiff. FIFPRO honoured seven teams for their outstanding sportsmanship: Australia, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Poland, Russia and the men’s and women’s team of Chile.

Australia didn’t have the best football team but Figueroa and his teammates showed their class by cheering for other teams and even applauding their opponent’s goals.

“We want to involve everyone, fair play is very important to us," Figueroa said. "That is the way we do our street soccer program. This award recognises that."

Current and former professional footballers, including Cardiff City’s Leandro Bacuna, Danny Ward and Lloyd Humpries and ex Swansea player Lee Trundle, handed out the awards, along with FIFPRO representative Raymond Beaard.

“For our team, it was very moving to receive the Fair Play Award,” Figueroa said."We loved to be part of the ceremony, it was a great experience.”

HWC Nik 1 240Figueroa was born in Canberra, but when he was still a one-year-old toddler his parents moved back to their native Chile. When he was 20, Figueroa returned to his place of birth. He had intended to stay for only three months but seven years later he is still there after initially struggling to adapt.

“I did not speak the language and because of that I was shy and struggled a lot with communication. I could not find a job, was living in the street, carrying my luggage around and I would look for abandoned buildings to sleep in.”

For three months, Figueroa was homeless. He did not have enough money to return to Chile. “But I also stayed because I received a lot of help in Australia. If people saw me all dirty in the street, then they would give me food or offer me a shower, English lessons or clothes for a job interview. That’s why I love the country.”

Figueroa’s life changed when he found out about the Big Issue, which is one of the 74 organisations affiliated to the Homeless World Cup which help homeless and disadvantaged people through football.

“I decided to join, because football is my passion: I grew up in South America…

“They welcomed me with open arms and the coach hugged me. He said Just enjoy it and become friends. And if you need someone to talk too, or need a job or some accommodation, then I am here for you. Then I jumped in the field. I could not communicate well, but everyone was just kicking a ball.”

Figueroa kept returning to the program, which helped him in a variety of ways: with a life coach, accommodation, a job and enrolling on a university degree course.

Seven years on, Figueroa’s life has drastically changed. “I am a music event manager and I organize festivals around Canberra and Melbourne. I am living with my beautiful girlfriend and our cat. We are saving money to buy a house.”

One part of his life hasn't changed: Figueroa still visits the Big Issue program.

“I go because there is always someone who is going through what I went through. I just want to talk to them, encourage them to play, find a job and a house and tell them I went through that. I can help you. We can help you."

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FIFPRO Fair Play award-winning teams: Mexico, Northern Ireland, Poland, Chile women, Chile men and Russia