FIFA’s bid to spread the positive message of its ’11 for Health’ programme has continued this month, with Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia all playing host to a high-level delegation from FIFA’s Medical department. Led by Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of the FIFA Medical and Research Centre (F-MARC), and Professor Colin Fuller, the man in charge of implementing this programme, the delegation was thrilled to receive an extremely enthusiastic response in all three of these major African nations.
'11 for Health', which uses football to help improve children’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour towards vital health issues, has been a roaring success in smaller African nations such as Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Malawi over the past couple of years. As a result, FIFA has been anxious to see its benefits enjoyed on a wider scale.
As Prof Dvorak explained: “The experiences of the past couple of years have been very successful but the challenge for FIFA now is to implement the same concept in much more populated countries and vast regions. This trip was a first step for FIFA medical staff to meet governmental representatives from health, education and sports ministries as well as, of course, presidents and general secretaries from the national associations.”
The aim of Dvorak and FIFA is for between 150,000 and 200,000 at the targeted age of 11 to benefit from ’11 for Health’ in each country, every year. It is, by anyone’s standards, an ambitious target, and one which requires extremely close collaboration with the relevant government departments. Nonetheless, it received an overwhelmingly positive response from the ministers and national association representatives involved, with Ghana’s deputy sports minister, Nii Nortey Dua, among those convinced.
As he said: “The programme uses football, which is a passion here. You see children playing football everywhere, in every corner, every little space. So using football to impact children’s health knowledge will go down well, I’m sure. That’s the reason why my ministry of sports and health will give this programme maximum support and embrace it.”
Zambia’s minister of education, Dr John Phiri, also saw the benefits in using his country’s national sport to focus youngsters’ minds on a potentially life-saving subject. “With Zambian children, any football they see excites them,” he said. “So when this programme is launched, I can imagine that many kids who normally find school boring will be excited by something like this, which lets them exercise their bodies and minds. Football is able to bring real joy to their lives.”
With such universal support for the aims and methods of ’11 for the Health’, the task now for the various stakeholders is to provide the unity of purpose required to make it a success. That fact clearly wasn’t lost on Tanzania’s minister of sports, Dr Emmanuel Nchimbi, who stressed the need for everyone involved to work closely together.
He said: “If we want this programme to succeed, we all need everyone to collaborate to make sure all the sectors give their consent and understand what we want to achieve. We need everyone to participate, which means the government through the ministers of health, education and sport, but also the Tanzania FA, with whom we are already working very closely.”
The final word went to Prof Dvorak, who spoke of his delight at the progress made so far, while also underlining the work that lies ahead in extending the benefits of ’11 for Health’ as widely as possible. He said: “It’s very exciting, of course, to start this kind of project in such large countries, and moreover to receive such terrific support from the stakeholders involved. We know that there is a huge passion for football among children in these countries and, equally, that there is a huge need for increased knowledge about health issues.
“For FIFA, the next step is to initiate a pilot project in each country with 11 public schools later in 2012 to test the programme's feasibility, monitor results, and if favourable with all involved, initiate nationwide implementation in 2013. Costs will be low and it is a win-win programme for all stakeholders, and most importantly for the next generation.”
More on’11 for Health’ and on the wider work of FIFA’s Development Department can be found by visiting the links on the right.