A preventative injury programme that can cut sports injuries by up to 33 per cent and have significant long term economic benefits has been presented to SPARC (Sport and Recreation New Zealand) CEO Nick Hill, New Zealand Minister of Health Peter Hodgson and Minister of Sport Trevor Mallard.
FIFA medical experts Professor Jiri Dvorak and Dr. Tony Edwards joined Oceania Football Confederation General Secretary Tai Nicholas in Wellington on Monday 12 March to help promote football as vehicle for improved health in New Zealand and the South Pacific.
Professor Dvorak said the programme, first implemented in Switzerland, had been approved at the FIFA Congress in 2005 and had now been implemented worldwide.
"The potential and power of football to reach people from all walks of life to promote healthy living and a healthy lifestyle in the Oceania region is huge," said Prof. Dvorak. "This preventative injury programme would be much easier to implement in a region such as the South Pacific as it is relatively smaller and has a better infrastructure than Africa in some respects."
Professor Dvorak added that the simplicity of football and its rules ensured that the cost of implementing programmes such as OFC's `Just Play' initiative would be relatively low.
Dr. Edwards and Professor Dvorak said FIFA's medical programmes had experienced considerable success internationally and that all that was sought after in New Zealand to boost any potential project was government support.
"Financial support from the New Zealand government would not be necessary, but endorsement and backing in marketing the concept would be useful. I envisage a one or two year lead in for the initiative to be underway by 2009-10," Professor Dvorak said.
"I am pleased with any initiative that promotes physical activity and soccer is a sport that is of relatively low physical contact," Minister of Health Peter Hodgson said.
OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas said football had already played a major part in addressing a raft of social and health issues in the region such as anti-Malaria messages in Solomon Islands, HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea and obesity in Polynesia and encouraging education throughout the region.
"We know that 46 per cent of our region's children stop going to school from the age of 13 and we believe that football can help deliver the message that education and sport - not just football - can be a massive benefit to our youngsters," Nicholas said.