27 March 2020 – Last week, FIFA President Gianni Infantino spoke of the world facing “an unprecedented health challenge”. And with every passing day the scale of that COVID-19-shaped challenge comes into sharper focus.
But Infantino also highlighted where football – with “unity, solidarity and a shared sense of responsibility” – could help in producing a “global and collective response”. It was a call to action that has since been heeded across the game, with individual players, clubs, associations and confederations all coming together to help and educate their fans and, where possible, to lend a practical hand.
There has, of course, been the prominent and star-studded ‘Pass the message to kick out coronavirus’ campaign, with some of the game’s biggest names helping FIFA and the World Health Organization (WHO) to stop the spread of the disease.
“I am delighted that world football is supporting WHO to kick out the coronavirus,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the virtual launch of the campaign. “I have no doubt with this type of support that together we will win.”
Stars step up
While Dr Tedros reserved special praise for FIFA for its funding and campaigning work, there have been examples from across world football that exemplify the collective effort taking place.
In Italy, which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, icons such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alessandro Del Piero have kicked off fundraisers to generate some much-needed funds for the country’s besieged health care system.
Similar efforts have been taking place in various corners of the globe. Stars of USA’s women’s and men’s sides – led by the likes of Julie Ertz and Christian Pulisic – have been pledging money and raising funds, while Manchester’s two great rivals united to provide a boost to local food banks.
Smaller clubs have been playing their part too, with Stenhousemuir – a team from Scotland’s fourth tier – offering practical support ranging from dog-walking to picking up shopping.
This willingness to help out on a practical, day-to-day level has also been shown by the likes of Jose Mourinho, who helped a local charity serve up supplies to older people in the Enfield area of London.
Amid the worrying news reports, hearts have been warmed and spirits lifted by some impressive gestures from within the world of football.
After a video of a dedicated young keeper training on his own went viral, Manchester United and Spain star Juan Mata offered the youngster the special reward of training with him once the restrictions are lifted.
There has also been a pledging of facilities by clubs, federations and individuals, with Chelsea and Gary Neville among those offering their hotels free of charge for the use of local health workers.
Reaching out to lonely, isolated and vulnerable supporters has also been a priority, with Everton fan Dave Howells, for example, receiving a morale-boosting personal call from Toffees captain Seamus Coleman.
Spreading the word
Just as importantly, teams and players have been coming together to help FIFA and the WHO educate fans on some truly invaluable health messages.
From washing hands to social distancing, there has been unity in pressing home the habits that will help keep COVID-19 at bay. And it seems those messages are getting through.
As the FIFA President said: “Together, we will win this difficult match.”