FIFA’s global health initiative ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ is expanding its reach in the world’s most populated continent. In a week-long visit to south-east Asia, FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Jiri Dvorak, accompanied by the Regional Project Coordinator Jeysing Muthiah, was able to observe first-hand the very positive results of the programme in Myanmar and set the foundations for its upcoming introduction in Thailand and Vietnam.

These three countries, with a total population of 210 million people, are confronted by various health challenges. These include the expansion of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and child obesity, as well as communicable diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

Myanmar
Myanmar was the first Asian country in which the ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ was launched, back in 2012. Since then, thanks to the strong support of the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF), it has been introduced in 327 schools in the Yangon and Mandalay regions, and there are currently close to 10,000 children actively participating in the programme with great enthusiasm.

The FIFA delegation received a very warm welcome at the national football stadium, where more than 600 children demonstrated different lessons from the ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ programme. Children and teachers shared their experiences and expressed their gratitude for the programme having been implemented at their school.

During a follow-up meeting, Prof. Dvorak discussed with government and MFF representatives a strategic plan that could reach one million children over a four-year period. The President of the MFF, Zaw Zaw, said: “We must act swiftly in shaping the next generation and prepare them for a healthier lifestyle.”

Thailand
The introduction of ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ in Thailand was initiated by Dr Paisal Chantarapitak, the Director of the FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence in Bangkok and an AFC Medical Committee member. In Bangkok, the FIFA delegation held fruitful discussions and exchanges with the ministers of Public Health, Education and Tourism & Sports. Following the initial positive response from the authorities, a working group was established with the aim of launching a pilot project by May 2016.

The launch of the programme could not have been timed any better. In view of the sedentary lifestyle of many schoolchildren, the Ministry of Education has introduced the slogan ‘Teach less, learn more’. The initiative, to be launched in the school year 2016, intends to reduce school hours and increase leisure time through physical activity. The ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ programme is the perfect solution, combining the popularity of football with the opportunity to disseminate health messages that are so vital for the development of future generations.

Vietnam
In Vietnam, Prof. Dvorak met representatives of the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) and the Ministries of Health, Education and Sports. The initial feedback was again very positive and it was agreed that FIFA and the VFF would work on a concrete project proposal aiming at September 2016 for the launch of a pilot project.

At the end of his visit to South-East Asia, Prof. Dvorak concluded: “The three countries visited could educate three million children during a three-to five-year period of constant implementation while playing football. Children would gain a healthier lifestyle for the future and therefore contribute to the improvement of public health in their respective countries.”

The ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ initiative harnesses the power of football and scientific research to inspire girls and boys to lead healthy lifestyles. The programme seeks to improve children’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around vital health issues such as HIV, TB, malaria, diabetes, obesity and hypertension. It has been a success in more than 20 countries around the world since its introduction ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.