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Food & Hunger

How a football superstar carried 805 million people on his back

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the football world’s most recognisable superstars. The captain and all-time leading goal-scorer for Sweden has entertained me for years with his eccentric antics, take-no-prisoners attitude, random acts of kindness, and awe inspiring goals.

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 a global icon 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 dancefloor-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.

At Paris Saint-Germain’s Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris, in front of 45,000 people, Zlatan scored in the opening minutes with an outrageous touch which instantly set social media ablaze in admiration. However the real story of the night was only about to be unveiled. Calm and collected, Zlatan went on to take off his shirt in celebration, revealing a heavily-tattooed body with over 50 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 & Mikey Smyth