22 March 2020 – Handwashing has become a hugely important issue around the world in recent weeks. The reason for this is obvious – its role in containing the coronavirus, COVID-19.

“It starts with your hands,” said coach Mauricio Pochettino in a video released by FIFA in conjunction with the World Health Organisation (WHO). “Please wash your hands frequently, if possible, with an alcohol-based hand solution.”

The official advice continues: “Such frequent washing with soap and water, or preferably with an alcohol-based hand solution, kills viruses that may be on your hands. It is simple, but it is very important.”

Nevertheless, one thing we must never forget is that water is still the planet’s most precious resource – and World Water Day is celebrated on 22 March every year to remind us of this fact.

“This day celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. It is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis,” explained the United Nations, which first marked the occasion back in 1993.

“World Water Day 2020 is about water and climate change – and how the two are inextricably linked. The campaign shows how our use of water will help reduce floods, droughts, scarcity and pollution, and will help fight climate change itself. By adapting to the water effects of climate change, we will protect health and save lives. And, by using water more efficiently, we will reduce greenhouse gases.”

The world of football and numerous athletes around the world have also committed themselves to this idea, including Neven Subotic. The Union Berlin defender with 36 international caps for Serbia builds wells and sanitation facilities in Ethiopia.

“We live in a global world with many different classes,” the 31-year-old recently explained in an interview with German newspaper AZ.

“The people who live in the richest countries often think: ‘Man, my life is so tough!’ These people forget that there are people who would do anything to have these kinds of ‘problems’.” Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene provides the foundation for not just a healthy life, but an independent one, according to the mission statement of the Neven Subotic Foundation’s 100% WASH project.

“For people in rural areas of Ethiopia, access to clean water protects their human rights, as they no longer need to drink from the same puddles as the animals,” Subotic said. “Having their own water gives them back their human dignity. Being part of this is the most overwhelming feeling. An old man who could have been my grandpa once said to me that the well made him feel like a human being for the first time. Things like that stick with me – and give me goosebumps.”

Since 2012, the Football for Water project has been working to provide sustainable and safe water and sanitation facilities to more than 600 schools and to improve the hygiene behaviour of at least 520,000 children and their families in Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya.

“Our programme offers schools safe, clean water and sanitation so that schoolchildren and their families have access to secure facilities,” Johan van Geijn, Manager of Football for Water, told FIFA.com. “The programme informs teachers and community leaders about the importance of health and hygiene. We show teachers how to use the power of sport, particularly football, to educate and share knowledge. After all, if something is fun, it makes learning easier.”

“As world football’s governing body, FIFA has the power to make the public aware of a social problem. FIFA has its foundation for social projects where football can play an important role. Wherever formal education cannot touch children’s hearts, football certainly can. World-famous players can support this message while at the same time inspiring local coaches and role models who have the skills and capacity to offer children a good training session or a fun football tournament while at the same time showing them how they can lead healthy and hygienic lives. Children who miss fewer classes due to improved hygiene and fewer illnesses and girls who no longer have to miss school because of their periods are the direct and measurable results of Football for Water’s approach.”

Footballers are not the only well-known figures to have dedicated themselves to improving the provision of water, particularly in Africa. Other prominent supporters of these initiatives include:

  • Haile Gebrselassie (long-distance runner)
  • Matt Damon (actor)
  • Kristen Bell (actor)
  • Jay-Z (musician)
  • David Blaine (magician)
  • Kendall Jenner
  • Chris Long (NFL player)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by world leaders at the UN Sustainability Summit on 25 September 2015, represents a milestone in international cooperation.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mark the first time that the international community has agreed a universal catalogue of firm targets that incorporate all three dimensions of sustainability and will significantly shape international cooperation in key policy areas over the next few decades.

“One focus of World Water Day is support for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6: ensuring access to and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” said Football for Water’s programme coordinator Machtelt Oudenhuijzen.

It is an ambitious goal, and one that football can and fully intends to play its part in achieving!