It had only been a few weeks since Vicente del Bosque picked up the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football award, but the amiable Spaniard was already back in Zurich, expounding upon the importance of teamwork – just as he did in his award acceptance speech.
This time, however, the 62-year-old coach was not addressing a gala audience, but a camera crew who had come to FIFA headquarters to film a new segment for the FIFA 11 for Health programme. The distinguished coach took his time, carefully and quietly explaining the principles of respect and fair play – qualities that are invaluable on the football pitch, but which also form one of the key messages in this global campaign to promote health, and healthy attitudes within local communities.
“Those who don’t play fair don’t get far,” insisted Del Bosque. “Unethical victories achieved without fair play hold no value and mean nothing. We are all about protecting, nurturing, looking after and promoting football and there’s nothing better you can do than play fair.”
Already well ingrained in the minds of the Spanish national team, Del Bosque’s views are now set to find a much wider audience, as part of the 11 messages contained in the teaching material now being distributed to classrooms all over the planet.
Del Bosque is one of five new representatives to have joined the 11 for Health programme this year, with fellow FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Marta and South American shooting stars Diego Forlán, Falcao and Neymar also lending their support to the health education programme. The 'new signings' join an already impressive line-up of stars, from Lionel Messi to Thierry Henry, who have all taken time out to film messages for the programme.
Developed by the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) for children aged between 11 and 12, the programme includes 11 simple health statements, based on the most pressing global health issues (as identified by the World Health Organisation) with one football star assigned to each topic. Marta, for example, talks about the importance of drinking clean water, while Falcao warns against excessive weight gain and Neymar focuses on protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Each of the health messages is tied to a footballing skill, such as passing, heading or shielding, with the campaign drawing attention to the fact that the football stars are “playing on the same side” in the battle to reduce disease. By recruiting so many well-known figures, F-MARC plans to harness the global popularity of football to make the project appeal to young people of every culture and nationality.
“When famous players speak, young people around the world really do listen,” explains FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jiří Dvořák.
Simple and scalable
Launched in 2009, FIFA 11 for Health has already enjoyed a healthy growth spurt of its own, having now been rolled out in 19 countries on five continents, reaching an estimated 50,000 children.
The success of the scheme has been attributed to its simplicity and scalability. Whenever a new roll-out takes place, local community teachers are invited to a five-day course where they receive personal instruction from Professor Colin Fuller and Dr Astrid Junge, the F-MARC officials in charge of the 11 for Health training programme. The teachers then go back to their schools to incorporate the programme in their curricula.
Over the course of 11 lessons, each lasting around 90 minutes, the schoolchildren are then taught football skills, combined with the all-important health message. As well as helping to quickly spread the programme, the use of local community teachers is intended to ensure that each region’s specific cultural values are adhered to and that classes are taught in a way that is age- and gender-appropriate.
“In all of the 19 countries we have visited so far, our intention has been to establish a sustainable preventative health programme,” Prof. Dvořák explains, “and to do this successfully, we recognise that we must be sensitive to the local culture.”
Fun and effective
The strategy appears to be paying off, with post-programme follow-ups suggesting a strong retention of the health messages among the participating children. A survey of 25,000 participants in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mauritius between 2009 and 2010 showed that their awareness of health issues had risen by an average of 25 to 30 per cent. Similar improvements have been observed in subsequent studies carried out in Ghana, Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Mexico and Colombia.
Just as importantly, over 90 per cent of the children who have taken part in the programme described it as “fun”, and said that they would recommend it to their friends.Though still in the early stages of assessment, the initial results of the FIFA 11 for Health have been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and have also been well received by the international medical community. Discussions are now under way to bring the programme to even more countries – in particular to Brazil, where
F-MARC is planning a pilot project to tie in with the country’s staging of this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup and next year’s FIFA World Cup™. The ambitious aim of the programme’s administrators is to have reached a worldwide total of around two million children by the end of 2015.
While the emphasis is obviously on the benefits gained by the children, it is clear, listening to Vicente del Bosque back at FIFA headquarters, that the stars are also getting quite a kick from their involvement in the programme.
“I think those of us who are prominent figures in big clubs and major national sides have a great responsibility,” says the Spain coach after completing his filming session. “Sport is health, sport should unite us and sport is a universal phenomenon, so it’s essential that we use it to help people lead cleaner, healthier lives.”