Wednesday 29 June 2022, 22:00

Sport for Mental Health and Social Cohesion programme sees success over six months

  • SMHSC draws to a close

  • Six-month-long project was rolled out in 13 countries across the world

  • Initiative constituted a unique partnership between FIFA, AFD and “German development cooperation (BMZ/GIZ)”

Thursday 30 June marks the end of the Sport for Mental Health and Social Cohesion project, the result of a unique collaborative effort by FIFA, the Agence Française de Developpement (AFD) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), work on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The aim of this initiative, which ran for six months in 13 countries across the globe, was to make use of the values and benefits of sport, and football in particular, to tackle the negative social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in addition to causing millions of deaths worldwide and creating severe health and economic problems, has damaged social cohesion and given rise to significant mental health issues. “This collaboration between three large international bodies is quite unique,” said Susanne Gaerte, Advisor Sport for Development for GIZ. “We’ve shown that we’re capable of acting quickly and flexibly to respond to consequences of the COVID pandemic that are both highly relevant and poorly addressed. Sport has enabled us to deal with these issues in a very effective manner.”

Our teams on the ground have seen the dynamic it has created among the population. It’s very positive and it makes us want to continue the experience.

Matthieu Valot
Matthieu Valot (AFD)

Celine Zigaul, FIFA’s Development Programme Manager for Africa, said: “The topic of mental health is fairly new in Africa. At the beginning, we had to explain why the project was centred on that issue. But as the months went by, both the trainers and the beneficiaries were able to see the value of it. There was a certain amount of awareness-raising work required. “I visited Côte d'Ivoire, where I had discussions with the representative of Tackle Africa, one of the NGOs involved in the initiative; they were using football and games as a teaching tool to increase an understanding – in a simple and fun way – of the impact of mental health on people’s lives. “Mental health problems are often viewed as a physical ailment and not as something stemming from the brain that then has an impact on the body.”

Sport has proven to be a powerful and effective tool when it comes to reaching a vulnerable and isolated audience. “It is often difficult to rally these groups over the long term and create cohesion; the various workshops and tournaments have not only enabled people to meet up, but they have also raised awareness,” explained Myriam Bessibes of the NGO La Guilde, which implemented the programme. “Among the beneficiaries, I was able to talk to, very few were even aware of the notion of mental health. The presence of psychologists during the sessions enabled those who needed help to get help and set up a follow-up process.” As well as Africa, the programme was also rolled out in three other continents. “This unprecedented partnership has enabled us to diversify geographically, in South America and Asia, and in the Balkans,” added Matthieu Valot, Sport and Development Manager at AFD. “Our teams on the ground have seen the dynamic it has created among the population. It’s very positive and it makes us want to continue the experience. We are already discussing the possibility of launching a new call for projects, maybe with a larger budget and over a longer timeframe.”

The first of many?

Although it is still too early to draw definitive lessons from the programme, which will be the subject of in-depth reports in the weeks to come, the high amount of positive feedback received after just six months has logically encouraged FIFA, AFD and GIZ to extend their partnership. “We are considering other joint projects, and one of the areas we’re looking at is gender equality,” said Zigaul. “Six months is never sufficient, especially for such new topics,” explained Gaerte. “But we would like to work over the long term, and draw inspiration from these pilot projects to take things even further. COVID forced and enabled us to introduce new ideas and now the door is open for us to tackle these topics more profoundly over a longer time period and work on bringing the countries and the various partner organisations taking part in the initiative closer together.”