As anyone who’s ever kicked a ball around with friends knows, football is a great unifier. In teams around the world from cities to villages, you’ll find a mix of people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, playing together as equals on the pitch.
But for many people living with HIV, this isn’t always the case. Fear of rejection and abuse stops players joining teams, and ignorance and prejudice stops team-mates accepting them. We believe this is wrong, and our programmes work to remove the stigma associated with the virus, so that teams accept players without questioning their HIV status. Players and coaches who shun those living with HIV often simply don’t have the facts about HIV transmission; there are many myths and a lot of misinformation. Our programmes provide the correct information, and also aim to develop the confidence and resilience of players living with HIV, helping them to live positively, to accept their status, adhere to treatment and make safer decisions in their personal lives.
In Tanzania, we spoke to a player living positively with HIV about being part of the TackleAfrica programme. “I am a student in Ludewa District. The football player who inspires me with the way he plays football is Christian Ronaldo. I joined the TackleAfrica programme one year ago, when the team coach accepted me to join the team to play football. I like the way our coach is coaching us football associated with HIV messages, we are learning two things in one – football skills and HIV knowledge, and it’s easier for me to understand and remember what the coach taught me previously. I have learned various ways of how a person can contract HIV and how they can prevent new HIV infections. I also learned that HIV infection does not spread by playing football, sharing in discussions, talking or eating food with a person living with HIV.
I am not scared of being verbally insulted, physically threatened, betrayed or assaulted. I think it is wrong for people to think that HIV is shameful. It is also wrong if they think they are not supposed to associate with a person living with HIV like me.”
We also spoke to a coach about his experiences with stigma, and how TackleAfrica sessions can address this. “I’m a coach living in Ludewa village, and TackleAfrica education is very important. It educates people in our society on HIV/AIDS, especially the youth – things which reduce stigma and the rate of HIV transmission among youth. I joined TackleAfrica as a coach in 2016 and I’m happy to work with TA. I’ve learned a lot of things concerning HIV/AIDS. I like using my time in TackleAfrica sessions instead of using it on things like engaging in sexual activities.
I’m a fan of Lionel Messi of Barcelona! In the future I’d like to be an international football player like Lionel Messi because I really like football. Thanks to TackleAfrica for the education you provide us through football.”
If you’re interested in our work, see how you can get involved by visiting www.tackleafrica.org/get-involved