Just as it did in Mexico at the FIFA U-17 World Cup a little over a month ago, FIFA has launched the “11 for Health” initiative in Colombia, teaming up with the national government and football association in unveiling a programme that will use the sport of football as a tool for prevention and education.
Presented in Bogota on Sunday and coinciding with the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, the programme comprises an initial phase in which schools in the tournament’s eight Host Cities (Armenia, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Medellin, Cali, Bogota, Manizales and Pereira) will take part.
Having received positive evaluations in South Africa (2009), Zimbabwe (2010) and Mauritius (2010), and in addition to its Mexico and Colombia launches, “11 for Health” will also be introduced at a later stage in Brazil. The pilot study showed that when combined with different elements of football play, such as defending, heading, shooting and attacking, simple health messages considerably improved knowledge of health issues among boys and girls and changed their habits.
“The aim is to transfer our experience of the ‘11 for Health’ programme, introduced in Africa, to Latin America,” said Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA Chief Medical Officer and chairman of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC), speaking at a press conference. “The goal of the programme is to impact on quality of life through prevention, which is the key.”
“The Colombian government is very involved in the quest for resources that will allow children to lead healthier lives,” commented Colombia’s Vice Minister of Health, Beatriz Londono Soto. “Football is perhaps the best instrument for achieving that, which is why we are working with FIFA. Football is the most popular sport for 11-year-olds the world over. The U-20 World Cup has raised its media profile even higher and we can harness that to promote our strategy.”
Research has shown that playing football, either competitively or for fun, has health benefits and, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), reduces the risk factors of a number of diseases. On the basis of these results, the F-MARC has decided to combine the direct health benefits of football with its unique reach as a tool for education and prevention to create this comprehensive health programme. In doing so it has drafted in stars such as Lionel Messi, Carles Puyol, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo to help get the health message across to children.
“‘11 for Health’ has a clear objective: to let children live healthier lives,” noted Mauricio Perfetti Del Corral, Colombia’s Deputy Minister for Nursery, Primary and Secondary Education. “It’s a message that President Santos is drumming into us. His main concern is to improve the lives of Colombia’s people, through education in particular.”
“11 for Health” can be adapted to the needs of each country it is implemented in. In Colombia, for example, the programme will be initially directed at 11-year-olds, an age group more likely to take the message on board and one very passionate about football.
“Colombian children face many problems: obesity, addictions, poor diet and dangerous lifestyles,” said Londono Soto. “Sport can help prevent these problems, and this programme can give them confidence by offering them a healthier lifestyle. As President Santos says ‘Prevention is the best form of medicine’.”
Looking to the future
The strategy is a long-term one, with the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 being used as a platform to promote what is more of a programme than a campaign.
“We are already working with the government and the Colombian FA to put it in place,” commented Professor Dvorak. “I am delighted to see that President Santos is supporting our initiative. I also know that President Blatter has always supported our programmes because he knows the importance of health in football.”
“We have been working together since May, and in September we will welcome a FIFA team to work on the messages we will be putting out, while also adapting them to the reality of life in Colombia,” added Londono Soto. “We will be rolling out the programme at 16 schools next February. We are moving forward stage by stage and in a structured manner because we are working towards the long-term.”