28 March 2012, Brussels, Nyon, Rome - The "Professional Football Against Hunger" campaign is coming to hundreds of European football stadiums with the message that action is needed now to avert a humanitarian disaster in the Sahel region of Africa, where a food and nutrition crisis caused by drought, chronic poverty, high food prices, displacement and conflict is affecting millions of people.
Promoted by the Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), the European Commission and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the third and biggest-ever Match Day Against Hunger kicks off on 30 March to spread this call for urgent action. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, will attend the game between Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart.
By the time the last match is played on 2 April, the campaign's message and activities will have swept across the continent from Glasgow to Vienna and from Málaga to Novosibirsk, involving 300 professional football clubs in 20 leagues throughout 16 European countries, reaching millions of football fans.
"We must act now to help people help themselves," said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO. "At the same time, we need to build resilience in local communities to stop jumping from crisis to crisis, and to prevent droughts from leading inevitably to famine."
Nearly 16 million people, mainly farming and herding households, are estimated to be at risk. ECHO and FAO are getting life-saving and livelihood-saving cash, food, agricultural inputs and training to the people who need them most, in addition to planning longer-term interventions to protect and restore the livelihoods of farmers, agropastoralists and pastoralists, addressing the root causes of the recurring food crises in the Sahel
"Football is the perfect vehicle for highlighting the plight of the people in the Sahel," said Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. "To respond properly to this emergency, governments, donors and aid agencies need to be united. Together, we can save lives."
"Football is the great global unifier," said Sir David Richards, Chairman of the EPFL. "The leagues and the players know the power and popularity of our sport and we are proud to use that power to tell stories that otherwise would not be told. European professional football is providing the megaphone for this message so that the right help can get to the people in need as soon as possible."
FAO Goodwill Ambassador and Spanish football star Raúl González Blanco said, "We need public support for food crises like this one. No one knows like footballers how crucial it is to have the stadium on your side to win the match."
Patrick Vieira, former French international star player and FAO Goodwill Ambassador, was born in Senegal, one of the affected countries. "We have a responsibility to those who are in distress through no fault of their own," he said. "The right to food is a basic human right, and no one in today's world should go hungry".
Former international star and ambassador from the Bulgarian professional football league Hristo Stoitchkov visited Burkina Faso last year to see the joint work of the European Commission and FAO up close. He said, "I have witnessed their life-saving, life-changing work first hand. They help people to feed themselves today and prepare for tomorrow. It's the right kind of help getting to the right people."
"We are all diminished when somebody, in any part of the globe, dies from hunger," said the Brazilian star player Roberto Carlos, currently the team director of Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala, adding: "This is even more tragic when we know that these deaths are preventable. United we can save a lot of lives in the Sahel."
Former Italian national team goalkeeper and campaign's ambassador from the Italian Lega Serie A Francesco Toldo highlighted that, "The people of the Sahel may think the world has forgotten them. This weekend, European football will stand in solidarity with them. They will know that they are not alone."
Spanish international and campaign's ambassador from the Spanish professional football league Roberto Soldado said, "Together we can prevent this crisis from turning into a full scale catastrophe."
Felix Magath, former footballer and active coach in the German Bundesliga stated, "We will ask our fans to join with us in calling for urgent help to the Sahel. United in this one cause we can truly make a difference".
Other football ambassadors of the campaign include Herbert Prohaska (appointed by the Österreichische Fußball Bundesliga - Austria); Steffen Freund (DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH - Germany); Vidar Riseth (Norsk Toppfotball - Norway) and Jerzy Dudek (Polish Professional Football League).
Match Day Against Hunger is the flagship event of the "Professional Football Against Hunger" campaign, launched in 2008 by EPFL, representing the 30 largest professional football leagues and almost 800 clubs across Europe, and FAO, the United Nations agency leading international efforts to defeat hunger.
Last year the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) - one of the world's largest humanitarian donors - joined the partnership. The campaign's focus turned to the work of ECHO and FAO in restoring the self-reliance of people struck by disaster.
Emergencies have the most devastating consequences for rural communities, where people depend mainly on agriculture for survival. FAO and ECHO help these communities return to farming so that they can feed themselves again. They also aim to address the underlying causes of vulnerability to increase people's resilience to future shocks.