UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin marked Thursday’s World Cancer Day by highlighting UEFA’s support for European efforts to defeat the disease.
Mr Čeferin, together with UEFA ambassador Eric Abidal, was speaking at an online panel discussion alongside Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission, and Manfred Weber, MEP and chairman of the European People’s Party group (EPP).
Former Barcelona and France defender Abidal won his own battle with liver cancer during his playing career, and having created the Abidal Foundation which works closely with the UEFA Foundation for Children, will now act as UEFA’s ambassador in this field.
“As president of UEFA – and also chairman of the UEFA Foundation – I assure you of our full support in this vital battle,” Mr Čeferin said.
“UEFA works in partnership with European and national public authorities, civil society and relevant stakeholders. We are committed to be a leading example of how sports bodies promote positive change and public policy objectives.”
Mr Čeferin joined the panel discussion as part of the EPP group’s United Against Cancer conference coinciding with the launch of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan by the European Commission. As well as outlining Europe’s policy priorities in fighting the disease, the event included debates and discussions on the next steps in the battle and the future of cancer research and care.
World Cancer Day has been marked each year since 2000 to raise awareness and improve education around the battle against the disease.
In a speech to viewers, Mr Čeferin highlighted three specific areas in which UEFA’s work makes a vital contribution to fighting cancer.
1. European teamwork
“To beat cancer, we need to bring Europe together and work as a united team,” he said. “Football has great experience in mobilising people around pan-European public health campaigns.
“The reach and influence that football has from a communications perspective is unrivalled. At UEFA, we therefore see it as our moral responsibility to use this power to serve public interest.
“So whether it is to support the Green Deal, vaccination campaigns, the fight against discrimination, or beating cancer, UEFA and the EU are team-mates based on our shared European vision and values.”
2. Active and healthy lifestyles
Mr Čeferin pointed to the Eat For Goals initiative, a joint project to battle obesity and promote healthy lifestyles for children.
“Together with the World Heart Federation and the European Commission, we developed an app and book showing young people how to prepare the same healthy meals as some of their favourite football stars.
“Our aim was to encourage them to eat healthily and lead an active lifestyle. It is a great example of joint action and is in line with UEFA’s longstanding partnership with the European Week of Sport and #GetActive campaign.
“We must continue to educate and empower our children to have active and healthy lifestyles, and help people to maintain this throughout their lives.
“Indeed, no one should be left behind, left out or let down. Everyone must have the right to sport. No matter their age, race, gender, where they live or their financial and social situation. This is at the core of UEFA’s mission – it is also at the heart of the Health and Equality ‘unions’ that the EU is seeking to build.”
3. Bringing hope
“When we are challenged – even in tragic and frightening moments as we have seen with COVID-19, and as we know is the case for the people and families battling cancer – societies and individuals often find their most inspiring selves, capable of persevering and spreading hope,” Mr Čeferin explained.
“For me, it is a privilege to observe inspiring acts up and down the football community of those battling to beat cancer at individual and collective levels.
“Whether it is players like Eric who work with foundations and projects, or community clubs and supporter organisations in local areas who help cancer patients and charities, football brings people together to build hope and solidarity.”
UEFA’s commitment to tackling cancer
Mr Čeferin reaffirmed UEFA and the football community’s dedication to helping beat cancer, citing their close alignment with the European Commission.
“Empty words will not help us to beat cancer,” he said. “Strong teamwork and concrete actions will.
“I am here today to make commitments with you on behalf of European football – as your team-mate in beating cancer.
“Indeed, vice-president Schinas and I have agreed to make beating cancer – alongside other public health priorities – a priority under the new UEFA-European Commission partnership agreement that we are working on.
“By doing these things, together, Europe can and will beat cancer. I assure you that UEFA remains your committed friend and partner in this endeavour.”
Key quotes: Europe vs cancer
Eric Abidal: “In 2013 my wife and I decided to establish the Abidal Foundation, based on the experience we had personally. We tried to bring our knowledge to support, to research and [offer] psychological support to families also suffering alongside the patients. It would be an honour for me to be able to represent with UEFA this important cause which we are trying to advance in our foundation.
“It’s always very difficult to be diagnosed with cancer. We do not realise what it will mean until it happens to us. We begin a battle that causes us to think and rethink everything and to reorganise our priorities. We try to share our experience with other patients and offer each other support and strength to exit from a very challenging experience.”
Find out more about the Abidal Foundation
Manfred Weber, MEP and chairman of the EPP group: “Cancer has the potential to become the number one cause of death in Europe – last year 1.3 million people died of cancer, and experts say this number will increase in the years to come. That’s why we in the EPP have made this a top priority for the European Union.
“If we combine our budgets, our research and our energy we can save lives and help improve the lives of many more. To realise our goal we need the involvement of civil society. So we are very happy about UEFA’s announcement to partner with the EU in our common goal: beating cancer in Europe!”
Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission: “Forty per cent of European cancers are attributable to lifestyle issues, and yet we only invest three per cent of our health budgets to these issues.
“What we are doing today is what the EU is best at: setting an ambitious goal, tangible targets, realistic deadlines, a lot of money – €4bn from different instruments – innovation and, most importantly, bringing together all relevant actors in partnerships that can work together over time. We are constructing today the beginning of a path for hope to be able to one day beat this disease.
“UEFA’s support for this campaign is testament to the strong partners that we are – tea-mmates as president Ceferin put it. I look forward to working together, also with Eric Abidal as a great ambassador, to ensure Europe and European football are united against cancer and strongly promote active and healthy lifestyles across the continent.”