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Hunger & Ernährungssicherheit

How a Soccer Superstar carried 805 million on his back

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a name you may not have heard or seen before this article... but one you should get to know (and work up the nerve to try and pronounce). The captain and all-time leading goal-scorer for the Swedish National Soccer Team has entertained me for years with his eccentric antics, take-no-prisoner attitude, and magnificent goals that can convince those most skeptical about soccer of the beauty of the sport:

Zlatan's goal in 2013 against England, the winner of FIFA's Puskas Goal of the Year Award | youtube.com

The inimitable Zlatan is both an icon in Sweden and a man of many diverse talents. He boasts an honorary black belt, is fluent in five languages (Swedish, Bosnian, English, Spanish and Italian), and is the subject of the club-ready, creatively-titled anthem, “Zlatan Ibrahimovic Song.” “Zlatanera” (which means “to dominate”) is now an official word in the Swedish language. Yeah, he even made it into the dictionary. On top of all these gifts, talents, and eccentricities, Zlatan is still able to showcase an empathetic and compassionate side to his mercurial character. On Saturday, he did just that.

In front of a crowd of 45,000 at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris, France (Zlatan plays for France's back-to-back league champion, a team called PSG), Zlatan scored in the match's 2nd minute with a deft touch and a gentle flick past the goalkeeper. A graceful goal that Zlatan made look easy, but take it from a high school soccer veteran, is far from it. Calm and collected, Zlatan went on to take off his royal blue PSG jersey in the celebration, revealing a heavily-tattooed body with cursive names representing the world’s 805 million people suffering from hunger. 

50 of the world's 805 million living in hunger | Flickr: Navin Rathi  

Together with the World Food Programme, "the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger," Zlatan donated his body, talents, and platform to raise awareness about the issue of  hunger. While the tattoos were only temporary and have most likely faded by now, the need to address systemic global problems of malnutrition, hunger, and food security is urgent, present, and integral in the fight against extreme poverty.

There are 805 million people who are suffering from hunger around the world. I want you to see them, via me [...] If we can reach out to world leaders, I am sure that together, we can solve the problem of hunger throughout the world."

- Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan's direct call to action on this pressing issue of hunger may have earned him a yellow card (and his coach’s ire), but more importantly it will serve to broaden a coalition of support, amongst the previously unaware. Malnutrition and hunger are issues that pervade and impact access to education, health equity, the spread of disease, and, inordinately, the welfare of women and girls. Moreover, of the 805 million people to whom Zlatan is giving a voice, many are children. Poor nutrition and issues related to hunger cause about 50% of the 10.9 million child deaths per year, and affect 32.5% (one-in-three children!) developmentally through stunting.

About the moment and the effort, Zlatan said: “If I could, I would write every single name on my body, but there are 805 million people suffering from hunger in the world.”

The reach and scale of Zlatan's charitable celebration elucidates and drives us one step closer to meeting and diminishing hunger's reach, scale, and role in sustaining extreme poverty worldwide. 

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Taylor B. Light