- How the WHO is using the FIFA World Cup to share important messages
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Sports enthusiasts are occupied with the FIFA World Cup, with the final match scheduled to take place next Sunday (18) in Qatar, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is using the football competition, which garners attention worldwide, to send important messages on timely topics like health and discrimination.
Even if one is not the biggest fan of the sport, many find themselves roped in by friends to watch games, and as the final match approaches, our attention is drawn to it, especially as football fever takes over our social media feeds. Considering this, a massive tournament like the FIFA World Cup makes the perfect platform for entities like the WHO to address pressing health issues that people face around the globe.
However, the partnership between FIFA and the WHO isn’t new, as the two organisations signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in 2019 to promote healthy lifestyles through football. From music and dance showcase events to a digital app to boost physical activity, these are some ways in which this partnership is sending the right message at the Qatar World Cup.
Bring the moves for health
One of the most recent campaigns was in commemoration of Universal Health Coverage Day, which fell on 12 December, where the World Cup semifinals kicked off with the “Scoring 4 the Goals” campaign, and a dance and music showcase event was held at Doha’s FIFA Fan Zone.
Titled “Be active: Bring the moves for health for all”, the showcase event featured activities and performances by award-winning Rwandan choreographer Sherrie Silver, I Like To Move It singer The Mad Stuntman, and WHO Goodwill Ambassadors champion footballer Didier Drogba and Brazilian goalkeeper Alison Becker. While the performers shared how honoured they were to participate in the event, Sherrie Silver said: “Dance has been a source of joy and passion for me, but also of being healthy, physically and mentally.”
The event celebrated the importance of health in three ways: Marking the annual Universal Health Coverage Day campaign, calling for progress on the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), which is health and wellbeing, and promoting increased physical activity.
The theme of Universal Health Coverage Day this year was “Build the world we want: A healthy future for all” and the campaigns held alongside the FIFA World Cup semi-final definitely drew attention to its goal of calling for stronger health systems committed to equity, trust, healthy environments, investments, and accountability.
Football icons rally together for health for all
The World Health Organisation and football icons also rallied to score a goal for “Health for All”, urging governments and people to achieve this goal, with WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying: “The World Cup is the greatest prize in football, and the greatest prize in life is good health and wellbeing.”
He added: “Health is not a luxury for the rich, but a fundamental human right and the foundation of peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable economies and societies. The tools we are launching today will help governments and individuals to realise that right.”
Marking Universal Health Coverage Day, the WHO launched two new tools: One to help governments design and deliver the right service coverage packages for their populations and the second to provide people with reliable information to support the everyday decisions they make to protect their health and wellbeing.
An app to boost physical activity
Last month, the WHO announced the release of a digital app to boost physical activity and help get children moving, which was released as part of a major digital health initiative for children and adolescents by the WHO, FIFA, and the Ministry of Public Health of Qatar.
The app, titled GenMove Season 1, is a game that uses advanced movement tracking combined with artificial intelligence (AI) technology to provide those aged 8-15 years with a vigorous video game experience. The WHO explained that the games call for a range of different movements that develop different physical skills and are suitable for children with all levels of fitness.
“Regular physical activity has major, lifelong benefits for physical and mental health, and is essential for the healthy development of children,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that digital innovations like GenMove Season 1 can be a powerful tool to reach young people and get them moving, especially children who might not play sports regularly.
The WHO recommended that all children and adolescents get an average of 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per day, including activities that strengthen muscles and bones at least three times a week. However, it added that more than 80% of adolescents do not meet these recommendations.
Apps like GenMove can address this issue, as the games are built around popular sports such as football and involve actions such as jumping, reaching, and kicking to build kids’ confidence and enjoyment of moving. The games can be played inside or outside and need only a mobile phone or tablet and a small space to get children active, the WHO stated.