On Tuesday, the day before it hosted its final 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ match, the Arena Amazonia in Manaus welcomed another vociferous crowd for the closing ceremony of the FIFA 11 for Health programme. Children from 11 schools across the city brought the project to a noisy close, generating almost as much excitement as the fans cramming into the stadium for the matches it has hosted.

FIFA Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jiri Dvorak, was there to see the joyous scenes for himself, which marked the end of a 13-week programme in which many young boys and girls have had the opportunity to learn important lessons on health and also to play the sport they love. 

“Whenever there’s football talks, everybody listens,” said Dvorak. “We’ve seen something very meaningful here, something that could change the lives of these children and their families by encouraging them to adopt healthier habits.

“The FIFA World Cup has provided the perfect platform for rolling out the project in Brazil, and FIFA is very pleased with the investment it has made and with all the support it has had from everyone here in Manaus. And let me make it very clear that this is not the end. It is only the beginning.”

Though already a success, the FIFA 11 For Health programme is hoping to achieve even better results in the future, as Professor Dvorak explained: “We’ve reached our first objectives, and you can see that from the excitement and affection these youngsters are showing. We’re hopeful that their awareness will become the programme’s biggest legacy and take it out to 45,000 Brazilian schools by 2018.”

We’ve seen something very meaningful here, something that could change the lives of these children.

Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA Chief Medical Officer

Adding his views, Humberto Michiles, Manaus City Council’s secretary of education, said: “We want to continue this innovative and very successful project and I'm proud to have played a part in it. Manaus has shown its ability to get people behind the project - we have also experienced the power of a new partnership, education/health and football.”

Simple messages bring huge rewards
Created by FIFA, the 11 For Health programme – which was first rolled out at South Africa and Mauritius in 2009 – has been introduced at 121 schools in Brazil 2014’s 12 Host Cities, with children aged between 11 and 12 taking part. Its main objectives are to encourage youngsters to participate in physical exercise and adopt healthy habits and to reduce the risk of them suffering illness and disease, all through an awareness programme that uses football to get the message across.

The children taking part in Manaus received simple messages on issues that are not normally touched on in school classrooms, such as respect for girls and women, the importance of inoculation against disease, protection against HIV and STDs, and the need to maintain a balanced diet, all this mixed in with healthy doses of football.

“I learned a lot both in playing football and in the educational sessions,” said Keliton Machado, a student at the Ana Mota Braga School, who also gave a short speech on the stage erected at the Arena.

“I want to be a footballer, and this will help me in the future. It’s already helped me in fact, because it’s got me off the streets,” added the young Flamengo fan, whose favourite player is Neymar.

It is not only the boys and girls who are hoping to make their way in the game one day. A student at the Alvaro Cesar de Carvalho School, Amanda Garcia, said: “I had a great time and I want to be a footballer now. I didn’t think I was any good, but I managed to dribble with the ball against the boys and score some goals. It was good and they showed me respect the whole time.”

Aside from promoting the game, the programme is also providing support for city councils, state governments and schools, who are doing all they can as a result to help FIFA 11 For Health’s increasingly dedicated participants.

“A lot of them were in the street or had no access to education,” explained Leocadia Neta Moraes, the head of the Alvaro Cesar de Carvalho School. “We’re now seeing results thanks to the help we’re getting. They have fun, they’re motivated and they’re becoming more aware. We’re seeing better and better schooling results.”