Africa: How Largest World Sporting Event Can Create a Legacy of Global Health

The world’s most popular sporting event is about to take place in Qatar. The World Health Organization and the Qatar Ministry of Public Health are working to make this year’s football (soccer) championship the launchpad for a global health and safety campaign – and a model for promoting those messages at other major sporting events.

Set to be held in Doha from 20 November to 18 December, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ is a unique platform to promote health across the world and to communicate the message that sport and health are intertwined. Working together, we can make these games a celebration of joy, well-being and solidarity for billions of people around the world.

Our partnership on Sport For Health has two main objectives:

  • to work with key partners to help make the 2022 World Cup – the first to be held in the Middle East – healthy and safe, and
  • to capture and share lessons learned with our partners and organizers of future large sporting events.

The partnership began last October, supported by FIFA and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar’s host committee for the games, as part of a drive to promote global health through football. We have collaborated to promote physical health and well-being in several ways. These included promoting health and nutritional awareness during the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan; engaging in the third edition of the “Walk the Talk: Health For All Challenge” in Geneva, where the WHO is headquartered; and raising awareness of the harms caused by smoking on ‘World No Tobacco Day’.

By focusing on physical activity, healthy diets and nutrition, tobacco control, mental health, and health security, we are working to provide guidance on how to help improve the physical and mental health of all people globally through sports.

Sport for Health aims to reach billions of people through cooperation and information.

Our goals are ambitious, and based on three key pillars: first, promoting health through strategic collaboration with governments and sporting organizations, reaching billions of people through football and other sports; second, making major sporting events safe for fans, players and staff; and third, sharing information with the public to help them make healthy lifestyle choices.

The partnership is leveraging this year’s FIFA World Cup to promote the health benefits of sport and develop new tools to reach people of all ages, particularly youth. As partners, we have been busy developing science-based guidance to communicate the importance of physical activity for all.

We know that regular physical activity, whether organized sports or simply walking and participating in physical activities, is linked to both mental and physical health. Being active with others can also help promote a sense of inclusion and community. Whether you are involved with high-intensity workouts or even just gardening, every effort counts towards a healthy body and mind.

To further promote healthy lives, we are underscoring the importance of nutrition, by demonstrating the benefits of offering healthy food choices at large sporting events. At the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, smoke-free stadiums and bans on tobacco marketing will help to protect people from this deadly product.

Keeping sporting events safe is a fundamental pillar of the project. 

Measures implemented at the World Cup will be an example of protecting the health of fans at future large sporting events. From ensuring implementation of mass gathering protocols outside and inside stadiums, to adhering to control measures to protect people from infectious disease outbreaks, we are committed to working with partners to ensure all necessary steps are taken to make sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup, safe and secure.

Teamwork is essential for success in sports. The same is true for protecting and promoting health. We are committed to striving together – for this year’s FIFA World Cup and beyond – to leverage the global power of sport to help people lead the healthiest lives possible.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is Director-General of WHO, a specialized agency of the United Nations. Her Excellency Dr Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari is the Minister of Public Health of the State of Qatar and managing director of the nation’s largest public health care provider.

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