"Football for health" - the South African media enthusiastically took up the slogan announced by Prof. Jiri Dvorak, MD, FIFA Chief Medical Officer, at the opening ceremony for the first FUTURO III-course in football medicine in Africa. "Football is the ideal tool to transmit educational messages on the most prevalent diseases in Africa. It reaches the young to the elderly, the male and the female, the rich and the poor. We should start to actively use this unrivaled advantage to improve not only football, but public health today."
Prof. Dvorak, who is also chairman of the FIFA Medical Research and Assessment centre F-MARC, sees a critical contribution of medicine to the FIFA projects on "Win in Africa with Africa" which aim far beyond the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. "The current and future challenges of communicable and non-communicable diseases to be met by the health systems in Africa are enormous. There is a substantial need for raising awareness, for education and prevention that can only be mastered by simple messages transmitted by a channel that reaches the whole population without difficulty."
Ideal entry point to improve public health
The obstacles to prevention in public health are widely known: Even if people are aware of the potential dangers of their behaviour, they might not change it as long as they are still healthy. But even if they have the best intention to change it, their motivation might suffer considerably if the actions needed to be taken by them are too strenuous or boring or even unpleasant.
One of the greatest threats to health is physical inactivity which considerably contributes to the development of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease - in developed and developing countries alike. Football has an unique advantage compared to the usual recommendations for an active lifestyle: It is less an effort but a passion, pure joy rather than constraint. "Football, three times a week an hour or a half-time, is the ideal prevention, but according to latest studies also a therapy for several diseases."
The are a number of further reasons that turn football into an ideal public health tool for Africa: First, its popularity on the continent. Second, in view of scarce resources, it can be played everywhere at any time without the need for expensive equipment. Third, it does not require any exceptional skills to be enjoyed.
2010 is a milestone, but only one
"There is no more powerful sport in Africa than football", assented Dr. Danny Jordaan, Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. "Some people do not want to hear anymore about 2010 changing everything. But I believe we can really make a difference if we use the power of football for prevention of some of the most challenging diseases -far beyond 2010."
In accordance with its scientific background, F-MARC intends to take a stepwise approach: Initially, an assessment of best practice concepts will be undertaken. Based on that, appropriate interventions will be designed, implemented and tested with regard to their impact.
FUTURO III course participants will play a crucial role in this concept: "We need manpower, competence and dedication to achieve this aim", appealed Prof. Dvorak. "We need you!"