15 February 2024 - Hong Kong S.A.R., China

The beautiful game: Football scheme offers mental and physical well-being support for vulnerable children in Hong Kong

Daniel, 11, from Hong Kong, poses as he joins a 'Play to Thrive' football programme by Save the Children Hong Kong.

HONG KONG, 15 February 2024 - Daniel, 11, hardly saw his friends and had limited social interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic. He spent most of his time at home in Hong Kong, which led to a profound impact on his communication and interpersonal skills.

Hong Kong was one of the few places in the world to pursue a “zero-COVID” strategy. Border and school closures, as well as a series of strict lockdowns, meant many children spent months indoors in a city where space comes at a premium.

The pandemic had a disproportionately negative impact on children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, those who faced prolonged school closures, and those who lacked essential support structures, such as family and teachers. [1]

A quarter of children and adolescents in Hong Kong -  a city notorious for putting pressure on students to perform well academically - experienced at least one mental health issue in 2023. About half experienced two or more recurring mental health problems, a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) found. [2]

These days, Daniel regularly attends football practice with his peers as part of a “Play to Thrive” football programme by Save the Children Hong Kong that leverages the power of the sport to promote the physical and mental well-being of girls and boys aged 6-12, including children with special educational needs.

"Since I joined the programme, I have learned how to express my emotions and seek help from the coach when I have difficulties. I quarrel less with my teammates,” he said.

"I want to rush to the football pitch for every [football] lesson and play with other teammates as soon as possible."

The programme offers sessions for children and their parents and guardians. These include football training and a manual on how to put into place social-emotional skills during training sessions to fun football tournaments and activities for children, parents and caregivers to encourage positive family relationships.

Hong Kong’s school system is also known for placing pressure on pupils to succeed academically. This can sometimes come at a high price. In the first 11 months of 2023, the city recorded 31 cases of suspected suicide by school-age people – the highest in 10 years.

Carol Szeto, CEO of Save the Children Hong Kong, said:

“We are harnessing our global expertise to roll out the Play to Thrive project to make a positive impact on children in Hong Kong. I am thrilled to see the enthusiasm of Hong Kong participants including boys, girls, and children with SEN (Special Education Need) as they engage with the programme and their essential social and emotional skills such as empathy, relationship-building, and resilience to manage challenges are future developed.”

The three-year project currently involves 200 families in two of the city’s districts -  Sham Shui Po in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and Tin Shui Wai in city’s northwestern New Territories -  where many underprivileged families live.


Established in 2009, Save the Children Hong Kong is part of the global movement which operates in around 120 countries. We work with children, families, communities, and our supporters to deliver lasting change for children in Hong Kong and around the world.  

For further enquiries please contact:

·       Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Global Media Manager, Asia: Amy.Lefevre@savethechildren.org

·       Rachel Ho/Phyllis Ma, Save the Children Hong Kongmediahk@savethechildren.org Tel: (852) 5287 3004

We have a spokesperson available for interviews.

Our media out of hours (BST) contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409

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