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UEFA mobilises Europe’s national team coaches to promote healthier lifestyles

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Coaches for Health – Feel Well, Play Well campaign will draw on the support of all 55 European football associations to raise awareness of the benefits of focusing on physical activity, nutrition and mental health early in life.

Italy's UEFA EURO 2020 winning coach, Roberto Mancini
Italy's UEFA EURO 2020 winning coach, Roberto Mancini AFP via Getty Images

Italy coach Roberto Mancini, mastermind of the Azzurri’s UEFA EURO 2020 triumph, together with his Italian women’s national team counterpart, Milena Bertolini, and the Netherlands’ Louis van Gaal, have all signed up to support Coaches for Health – Feel Well, Play Well, a new UEFA health and well-being campaign launched on Thursday.

Over the next three months, the campaign will invite coaches of all of Europe’s men’s and women’s national teams to use their influential voices to teach young people about the importance of making healthy choices early in life, prioritising physical activity, nutrition and mental well-being, and avoiding substance abuse.

Michele Uva, director of UEFA’s football and social responsibility division, announced the campaign in the Slovenian town of Bled at a special event celebrating the start of the European Commission’s annual European Week of Sport (23–30 September).

"We are delighted to partner with Europe’s 55 national associations, and to count on the unprecedented support of their national team coaches for this kind of initiative," said Mr Uva.

"Preserving health matters more than ever, both on and off the pitch. As part of our sustainability strategy, we are committed to raising awareness of the physical and mental health benefits of playing football," added Mr Uva, who is leading the development of a new UEFA health and well-being policy.

UEFA pledge to European Commission’s HealthyLifestyle4All

UEFA is committed to promoting healthy lifestyles for young people
UEFA is committed to promoting healthy lifestyles for young peopleGetty Images

Coaches for Health – Feel Well, Play Well also forms the centrepiece of UEFA’s official pledge to the European Commission’s HealthyLifestyle4All, a campaign with similar goals that was also launched at the Bled event and encourages organisations, civil society and public authorities to promote the long-term benefits of sport and healthy lifestyles.

"With this pledge, UEFA shows its crucial role as a partner of the European Week of Sport in promoting a Healthylifestyle4All," said Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, after European football’s governing body became one of the first organisations to pledge support to the EC campaign.

Pilot phase

In this initial pilot phase of Coaches for Health – Feel Well, Play Well, the men’s and women’s coaches of five associations – Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Slovenia – will deliver educational messages through 10–30-second videos. Associations will then promote the videos across their main communication channels – social media, newsletters, official websites.

UEFA prepared its messages in consultation with Italian non-governmental organisation Insieme contro il Cancro (Together against Cancer), which provided scientific guidance identifying the campaign’s four key areas of focus: physical activity, nutrition, mental health and substance abuse, particularly alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Mancini: 'Be active… like true champions!'

In his ten-second video for the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), Italy coach Mancini says: "Be active and play sports for at least 60 minutes every day. You will feel stronger, more dynamic and more energetic, like true champions!"

As well as Mancini, Bertolini and Van Gaal, five other national team coaches are preparing videos: Willibald Ruttensteiner and Gili Landau, coaches of the Israeli men’s and women’s national sides, Northern Ireland’s men’s national team coach, Ian Baraclough, and Matjaž Kek and Milenko Ačimovič, coaches of Slovenia’s men’s senior and Under-21 sides.

UEFA will use lessons learned from the pilot phase to finetune Coaches for Health – Feel Well, Play Well ready for its pan-European launch to all 55 associations later in October/November.

European Week of Sport

UEFA's Grassroots Week runs in parallel to the European Commission Week of Sport
UEFA's Grassroots Week runs in parallel to the European Commission Week of Sport Getty Images

UEFA has been an official partner of the EC’s European Week of Sport since signing a cooperation agreement with the European Union in 2014. Promoting active and healthy lifestyles is a key objective of this formal framework for cooperation and each year, UEFA schedules its own Grassroots Football Week to run in parallel with the wider EC event.

For the 2021 edition of Grassroots Week, both UEFA and its 55 member associations will highlight the importance of learning the game early in life through national Football in Schools programmes – another indication of UEFA’s long-term commitment to using sport to encourage healthier lifestyles.

EU-UEFA partnership

The EU and UEFA have a long and successful track record of running joint campaigns that use European football’s visibility to promote EU public policy and objectives on healthy lifestyles. As early as 2007, a joint EC-UEFA television advert, broadcast to fans across Europe at half-time in UEFA Champions League matches, was inspired by the EU’s #GetActive campaign.

As UEFA develops a new football and social responsibility strategy, and with the two organisations due to renew their cooperation agreement, the partnership is set to go from strength to strength.

"When your sport is played and followed by millions of people, your actions have an enormous impact on society, especially the young," said Michele Uva earlier this year. "That brings a responsibility that football cannot ignore and is why UEFA has integrated social responsibility into every aspect of its five-year strategy for European football."