Today children will give their fathers Canna flowers in Thailand. Groups of men will hike together in Germany. Families will gather for barbecues in the United States. As people all over the world pay tribute to the father figures in their lives, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs (JHU∙CCP) celebrates fatherhood this year with a soccer game.

Soccer is the king of sports in Nigeria. It is played in every street corner and open field. Whether watching or playing, it serves as the national pastime for most men in the country.

Capitalizing on the popularity of the sport, the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI) recently created an event under its Get It Together (GIT) campaign to educate soccer audiences about the first step of responsible fatherhood: family planning (FP).

So what happens when soccer and FP combine?

“So many Nigerian men are soccer fans, so this was a particularly good opportunity to reach out to fathers,” explains Caroline Jacoby, Senior Program Officer at JHU∙CCP. “ NURHI recently inaugurated a very high-energy GIT sports competition to mobilize community support for the use of modern FP methods.”

Teams comprised of GIT social mobilizers from various NURHI project areas competed for the championship at the city, regional and national levels. Drawing on the components of the GIT campaign and entertainment-education radio dramas, the competitors were quizzed on their knowledge of FP during half time.

Each team’s final score was based on its combined performance in both the soccer match and FP based quiz.

NURHI used this opportunity to publicize community level FP services by providing information about FP; promoting FP as a way of life; and providing on-the-spot service and referrals to Family Planning Providers Network (FPPN) sites. The sports competition supported GIT’s objectives by encouraging all Nigerians to KNOW the facts about FP, TALK to their partner and GO for services.

Director of Primary Health Care Services, Dr. Famakinwa, praised the FP services at the event, “The quality of the match and the quiz competition is very impressive and in this same program we could see that services are being provided for community people. The soccer competition is a very good opportunity for people male and female to access FP.”

Highlights from the tournaments include lively juju music and vibrant parades at the sites that helped raise awareness and attract crowds from the neighboring communities. The teams danced to the music as GIT and FP based lyrics sounded in the background. An FP expert addressed questions from the audience and satisfied users and couples were encouraged to participate by sharing their testimonials in public.

Spectators also received “Be Successful” and “Be Beautiful” leaflets, highlighting attributes of the modern Nigerian man and woman. The leaflets serve as ideals to strive for and offer FP as a means to attain such status.

“As we come together to play soccer, we are making people to know that FP is free and available,” said Huawa Mohammed, a female participant, “It would help people to take care of their family and the woman will look healthy and beautiful. Even the men would be able to take care of their family very well. We thank NURHI for everything.”

A total of 14 matches were played across the sites, a few attracting as many as 500 people. Over 600 men and women received modern FP methods including male condoms, female condoms, pills, implants, injectables and IUDs. Likewise, male spectators at the tournament finals signed a larger banner demonstrating their commitment to FP.

“I would go home and tell my people, that I am getting it together and that they too should be getting it together by using FP. We hope that the awareness that has been generated here during the match would continuously make many people to be getting it together,” expressed Captain of the winning team, Samuel Enang.

This Father’s Day, whether they go by Pops, Baba or Dad, we salute the fathers that take the responsible first step in caring for their families. They are the ultimate winners.

Nigeria has one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world, losing more than 500 women with every 100,000 live births. NURHI is a five-year Bill & Melinda Gates-funded project (2009-2014) designed to address this statistic by increasing contraceptive use in the six Nigerian cities of Abuja, Benin, Ibadan, Ilorin, Kaduna and Zaria, with a focus on the urban poor. The project aims to increase demand for and supply of FP, ultimately leading to long-term sustainability. FP is a key intervention in reducing maternal deaths and achieving national development.

View photos of the GIT Soccer Competition.