Sunday 07 April 2024, 07:30

Player welfare remains constant FIFA focus on World Health Day

  • FIFA continues to show unwavering commitment to players' health and mental well-being as World Health Day marked on 7 April

  • FIFA investment and initiatives fuel advances within football and sports medicine

  • World Health Organization (WHO) partnership has spawned numerous successful campaigns

Players' physical and mental health will remain front and centre of FIFA's thinking going forward as it continues its close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), which is marking World Health Day on 7 April. Reinforcing FIFA’s commitment to player welfare, The International Football Association Board (The IFAB) during its 138th Annual General Meeting in March confirmed the decision to make permanent concussion substitutes part of the Laws of the Game, a landmark move that formalises an innovation FIFA first trialed at the FIFA Club World Cup™ in 2021.

"FIFA cares deeply about player health and we will continue to invest in gathering more medical expertise about concussions. In this respect, FIFA will also launch a global campaign across all levels of football to raise awareness of how to recognise the symptoms of concussion and treat it appropriately," said FIFA President Gianni Infantino following the decision, which will come into effect when the new edition of the Laws of the Game is released on 1 July 2024. "The main idea is to make football safer and more attractive, and for that, we will continue to carefully examine, study, and trial relevant suggestions made to amend, or update, the laws of our beautiful game."

Constantly looking for ways to improve medical care in football across the world means FIFA conducts a number of medical courses and workshops at tournaments with its member associations (MAs) every year. "We care about football. We care about our game. And that’s why, obviously, we care as well about everyone who is involved in the game, in particular the players," said Mr Infantino in addressing the two-day FIFA Medical Conference in Boston, USA, in February this year. "And for this reason, you are here to help us and to help the world make progress and [take] steps forward in the protection of the health of the players and all those who surround them."

Continued investment in medical advancements in football go hand-in-hand with the close partnership FIFA has established with WHO since they first signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019. That agreement was renewed last year by Mr Infantino and WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and it is a relationship that has borne fruit in recent years in the shape of a host of successful joint initiatives.

The Be Active #BringTheMoves campaign has championed getting children moving in response to WHO data that shows some 80% of youngsters globally are not getting enough daily exercise.

Since its launch at the FIFA World Cup 2022™, the campaign has been successfully delivered at all major tournaments, notably challenging children to #BringTheMoves as part of their recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day. It also took centre stage at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup™ in Dubai this year as two groups of people living with disabilities joined players and coaches from the tournament to be active in the sand.

FIFA's Football for Schools programme is also bringing young people to the game via existing educational structures in their home countries. In October last year, Burundi became the 100th FIFA MA to sign up to the scheme and more than half of the 211 MAs have now joined. This has given more than 40 million school pupils globally the opportunity to play football, allowing them to exercise and learn valuable life skills as well as those they need on the pitch, while also often breaking down social barriers as they kick a ball together.

"Football and other sports help to prevent heart diseases, cancer and diabetes and can also improve mental health and well-being,” Dr Tedros told the FIFA Medical Conference. "Still, too many girls and women are significantly less active than boys and men. Football can help to change this by addressing barriers to participation, such as social norms, or lack of opportunities and support. Sport medicine has driven the enormous increase in knowledge we have on the benefits of sport participation." In 2021, FIFA joined forces with WHO to launch #ReachOut, an ongoing campaign designed to raise awareness of the symptoms of mental health conditions. Professional footballers are among the estimated 260 million people coping with depression worldwide, with 13% of players participating in a 2019 FIFPRO study stating they had suffered from it.

“This campaign is very important in raising awareness about mental health conditions and encouraging a conversation which could save a life," the FIFA President said at the campaign's launch. "Depression and anxiety affect rising numbers of people worldwide, and young people are among the most vulnerable. Having a conversation with family, friends or a healthcare professional can be key. FIFA is proud to launch this campaign, supported by the World Health Organization, to encourage people to #ReachOut."