31 October 2023: Football legends Jay-Jay Okocha and Kader Keita have joined the Zero Malaria F.C., alongside founders and co-captains Luís Figo and Khalilou Fadiga, to help increase awareness of malaria and push for progress in the fight against this disease.
Zero Malaria F.C. launched on World Malaria Day in April this year, after Figo and Fadiga teamed up with the RBM Partnership to End Malaria to urge the international community to deliver on a malaria free world. To help achieve this goal, they are bringing together a team of football legends from around the world this week to use their platforms and spread the message.
To announce the new team members Khalilou Fadiga and Kader Keita are taking part in a two-day event in Cote d’Ivoire exploring sport in Africa. The event, held by Le Monde Afrique, is addressing the lack of major sporting events hosted on the continent and how sport can help develop economic opportunities for African countries by facilitating large-scale projects.
A hand-painted wall mural, created by local artists in Abidjan, and featuring Figo, Fadiga, Okocha and Keita in their club kits, revealed the latest team line-up. Fadiga and Keita will also be taking part in a local football match as part of the event alongside RBM Partnership to End Malaria’s CEO, Dr Michael Charles.
The Zero Malaria F.C. has a particular focus on ending malaria in Africa, where there is a disproportionately high share of global cases (95%). The new club members have joined following African Heads of State warning in September that we are now facing a looming malaria emergency and failure to act will result in malaria epidemics.
Malaria is treatable and preventable but substantial funding shortfalls are holding the world back from defeating it once and for all. The team are calling on world leaders to prioritise tackling this disease – before it is too late.
This week’s event signals an important step in growing Zero Malaria F.C and ensuring the issues around malaria remain on the world stage.
Jay-Jay Okocha is a former Nigerian footballer with 73 international caps, who played for major European clubs including Paris Saint-Germain, Fenerbahce and Eintracht Frankfurt. He also had spells at Bolton Wanderers and Hull City. In 2018, he was voted Bolton Wanderers’ greatest ever player.
“I’m hugely proud to join this team alongside some fantastic former players and friends,” Jay Jay said. “I want to use my platform to raise awareness of this disease because it impacts so many people around the world, including in my home country of Nigeria. Together we can use the power of football to spread our message and move towards beating malaria for good.”
Kader Keita is a former Ivorian footballer, who had a fifteen-year professional career at some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Lille, Lyon and Galatasaray. He also won 72 caps for the Cote D’Ivoire national team, representing them at two World Cups and five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
“I’ve won many victories on the field during my career and now have my sights set on achieving another,” Kader said.
“I’ve never shied away from the fight as a player but the fight against malaria might be the biggest of them all. Helping people around the globe and here in my home country of Côte d'Ivoire to battle malaria is hugely important to me and, alongside my new team members, I hope we can eradicate malaria once and for all.”
Dr. Michael Charles, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, comments:
“Now is the time to call for greater support to help eradicate malaria. With the tools we have at our disposal we can make great strides towards our targets – but only with the right support and crucially, the right funding, in place to do so.
“The new vaccine is not a silver bullet for the fight against malaria and needs to be used alongside other tools to help us eradicate this disease. We are moving into a crucial stage of our response and need the international community to step up to ensure that no parent, child, family or individual suffers unnecessarily.
“We must come together to deliver increased funding, the right prevention programmes and continued innovation to stay one step ahead of the mosquito, which is constantly evolving and growing resistant to existing tools.
“Through initiatives like the Zero Malaria F.C. the RBM Partnership continues to play its role in raising awareness of the disease and the devastating impact it has around the world. We are extremely thankful to be working with sporting legends like Figo, Fadiga, Okocha and Keita, who are using their platforms for good.”
Khalilou Fadiga, co-captain of Zero Malaria F.C., commented: "I'm hugely proud to be welcoming two great friends and former players to the Zero Malaria FC. Together we can use our voices to address the issue that impacts so many lives and set our sights on ending malaria."
Luis Figo, co-captain of Zero Malaria F.C., commented: "Today is another important step for this football club with a difference as we welcome two legends of the game to our ranks. Many years ago I would've called Kader and Jay-Jay rivals, but today it's great to be standing alongside each other as teammates as we aim for our biggest victory yet."
The latest figures from the World Health Organization show that there were still 247 million malaria cases and 619,000 deaths globally in 2021.
But elimination is possible if the right resources are dedicated to tackling malaria. Since 2000, over 20 countries worldwide have reached the target of zero malaria cases, with other countries close behind. The recent announcement of the R21 vaccine has added another weapon to the fight against this disease and given fresh hope of hitting eradication targets.
The Zero Malaria F.C. is asking individuals and organisations to show support and spread the word about the dire need for greater action to tackle malaria on social media, using the hashtag #ZeroMalariaFC.