The World Health Organisation (WHO) and football’s world governing body, FIFA, on Friday signed a four-year agreement that seeks to promote healthy lifestyles ”by using football as a tool to campaign against global tobacco consumption”.

WHO in a statement issued via its website said the memorandum of understanding was signed by WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

The pact covers several areas of collaboration.

These are ”advocacy to promote a healthy lifestyle through football; policy alignment to ensure tobacco-free environments at FIFA events, to encourage national football federations to adopt tobacco-free policies, including at stadiums; and to enable WHO to provide technical advice to FIFA on health matters.”

Others include ”building on FIFA events to institute lasting improvements in health and safety and joint programmes and initiatives to increase participation in physical activity through football, in line with WHO guidance, as well as working with national associations and networks of WHO goodwill ambassadors, football players, coaches and volunteers to increase physical activity through football.”

Speaking on the agreement, Mr Ghebreyesus reportedly said WHO is excited working with FIFA.

He said “half the world watched the 2018 World Cup. This means there’s huge potential for us to team up to reach billions of people with information to help them live longer healthier lives”.

In a similar vein, Mr Infantino expressed gladness that FIFA and WHO would be working together to promote healthy lifestyles through football.

He reportedly said: “I am extremely happy to announce this collaboration with WHO. Football is a unique, universal language and we want to use our platform and network to support health initiatives and promote healthy lifestyles all around the world.

Modalities

According to the UN agency, WHO will provide technical advice to FIFA on a variety of health matters, such as ensuring tobacco-free environments at FIFA events and encouraging national football federations to adopt tobacco-free policies, including at stadiums.

This is not the first time both organisations will be working against tobacco use.

WHO and FIFA cooperated to ban tobacco at football tournaments, including the 2018 World Cup.

WHO said both organisations will build on efforts made to safeguard health at FIFA events.

They would also institute lasting improvements in health and safety.

It is expected that joint initiatives with national associations and networks of footballers, coaches and volunteers will increase participation in physical activity in line with WHO guidance, and help to increase physical activity through football.

The collaboration will also leverage on the two organisations’ respective strengths to ensure health messages and activity-related programmes can have a major positive impact on the lives of people all around the world.

Football and Tobacco

Sponsors of sports, especially tobacco firms, have in the past tried to exploit the avenue to promote their products to the public.

The idea of using football to sponsor products stemmed from to the 1920s when a butcher in Blackburn used the success of the local team, Blackburn Rovers, in the FA cup to promote his sausages.

Since then, brand marketers and cigarettes manufacturers caught on with the rave, exploiting the popularity of football and its players to promote their brands.

Tobacco companies have been prominent sponsors of football events including the World Cup.

Although as at then there were laws against cigarette companies sponsoring football events, FIFA could not do much to prevent them from sponsoring the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

However, that was the last time tobacco advertising was allowed at a FIFA competition.

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