Chairman of FIFA Medical and Research Centre (F-MARC) and FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jiri Dvorak addressed up to 800 young people at the 2nd Pacific Youth and Sports Conference in Noumea, New Caledonia.

“We planted the seed about the FIFA health programme Football For Health at the last PYASC conference in Auckland,” Dvorak said. “I decided to come here instead of going to Brazil because it’s so important to bring together all the messages about education, health and social work done by FIFA and of course, the Oceania Football Confederation.”

Dvorak gave a run-down of what he calls “one of the most ambitious programmes that we as F-MARC have launched”, the FIFA 11 For Health – a football and school-based programme that raises awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle by using the popularity of football.

“Put simply the programme is 11 messages delivered during 11 weeks of playing football. So the kids are learning football skills and at the same time they’re getting the health messages and we’ve seen in the past it’s very successful.”

Following the 2010 conference, the programme was trialled in two Oceania countries, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

“We chose Solomon Islands because it is facing great health challenges, and Tonga, where football probably isn’t the most popular game but is played by the majority of people. So it went very well and we hope that we can go into nationwide implementation not only in those two countries, but to export hopefully into the other islands as we would like to see it spread throughout the Pacific.

“We realise in the Oceania countries they are facing big health challenges. Overweight, child obesity, increasing frequency of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high-blood pressure – so the earlier you start with preventative activities the better. Nothing is more suitable than the most popular game, even in this region, football.”

Dvorak says the key message is that football is a tool that can help tackle the variables that contribute to the unhealthy lifestyles affecting the Pacific population including unhealthy food, high calorie, sugary drinks and physical inactivity.

The reality in the world of FIFA is we are trying to make a change and build a better future. Physical activity is vital for a healthy life for all of us.

“The reality in the world of FIFA is we are trying to make a change and build a better future. Physical activity is vital for a healthy life for all of us. For girls, boys, able-bodied and disabled or whatever we call ourselves. We are all confronted with what I call unhealthy trias - unhealthy food, high calories drinks and physical inactivity. These will lead to being overweight, to diabetes, and other kinds of Non Communicable Diseases and this is in particular this is one of the most common problems in the Pacific.

An example of the kinds of messages the programme helps promote is respect for girls and women, and each one is paired with a key football skill. Giving the programme even greater appeal amongst youth and children is the inclusion of some of the world’s top footballers, who as ambassadors give authority to each message.

Some of those ambassadors include 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or nominees Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Lionel Messi, as well as five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year winner Marta. Dvorak says it is an extremely popular programme with supporting results showing a significant increase in health knowledge as well as high rates of approval from the kids themselves.

“The Pacific region may not be the top performers on the World stage in football, but as we have learnt by the Peace and Sport award received by Just Play and OFC – it is leading the way in social activities. It’s not just lip service but actually bringing the social activities to daily life and this is more important. We can all learn a lot from them.”

Dvorak delivered a keynote address before leading the first seminar on the third day of the Pacific Youth and Sport Conference that began on Monday 2 December. The day’s theme was social inclusion and followed the two earlier themes of Health and Education, Employment and Capacity Building. The conference concludes on Friday 6 December when each of the 19 delegations attending from around the Pacific will present projects using sport as a development tool to tackle the social issues affecting their respective countries.

A committee will select the best projects to be awarded with financial help to get those projects up-and-running. Dvorak will remain in New Caledonia to attend the Ministers’ Meeting on Saturday 7 December which is set to gather the Ministers of Youth and/or sport from countries around the Pacific.

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