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FIFA, UN agency team up to promote health around soccer

GENEVA (AP) — FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes a new partnership with the U.N. health agency is a "starting point" to help leverage the global appeal of soccer to improve health outcomes. Infantino said the association with the World Health Organization will work to "elaborate concrete solutions" and insisted that FIFA's corporate sponsors, including Coca-Cola and McDonald's, are "progressing" on health.

He called it FIFA's "deep responsibility" to work with the WHO. The agreement, he said "is a starting point ... we have to start somewhere." The U.N. agency aims to reduce the consumption of foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believes that the appeal of soccer is too good of an opportunity to promote healthy habits to pass up. "Staying away from the pitch, for WHO, is actually like being defeated by forfeit," he said.

Infantino said the link-up, formally called a memorandum of understanding, testifies to the improved health of soccer's world governing body. FIFA had tried to link up with WHO in the past, but in 2016, for example, "no one wanted to associate with FIFA," which he called "clinically dead" amid a scandal.

Infantino removed the longstanding medical director who oversaw FIFA's public health program in 2016. "Unfortunately — it's true — if you go into a school and you speak to little young boys and girls and you tell them, 'O.K., today we're giving you a presentation from the World Health Organization about nutrition,' they switch off immediately," Infantino said.

"When you go to them and you take a ball like that, and you put the ball on the table," he added, slamming a multicolored ball on the table, "and you say 'today, we speak about this — about football — and by the way, you know that in order if you want to play football you need to eat healthy, you need to be careful of the sugar': These are the projects that we are going to do together."

Infantino also suggested that poor turnout at stadiums at the world track and field championships in Doha was not a sign of things to come in 2022, insisting "they will be full at the football World Cup."

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