Promoting sport and HIV prevention
12 September 2007
“What do you want to do when you grow up?” “Play cricket for South Africa!” the six boys cried out in unison when asked about their future aspirations.
The group of 9- and 10-year-old ‘mini-cricketers’ from Alexander Township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, were at Wanderers to meet some of their heroes from the Bangladeshi cricket team, here to participate in the ICC World Twenty20 2007, taking place in South Africa from 11 to 24 September.
The youngsters are all involved in the sports programme of loveLife – South Africa’s national HIV prevention programme for young people. The programme aims to introduce sport and develop interest and skills of underprivileged children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to play organized sport and instead turn to ‘risky’ behaviours that make them vulnerable to HIV infection. As in all loveLife programmes, HIV prevention messages are integrated into the sporting activities.
“LoveLife focuses on the next generation of South Africans”, said Rudy Van Rensburg, the organization’s outreach coordinator. “Some 95 percent of 15-year-olds in South Africa are HIV-negative currently and it is our responsibility to keep them free of the virus. All of our programmes teach positive living, whether through sport or self-development, motivating them to reach their future potential.
”LoveLife, together with the ICC, UNAIDS, UNICEF and the Kaiser Family Foundation, have joined together in a unique partnership to highlight the situation of children and young people living with and affected by HIV through the global game of cricket.
The Bangladeshi cricket team is the youngest in the international test-playing league, with an average age of only 22. Yet, they have scored a number of impressive successes on the field – most notably the landslide win over top team South Africa at the World Cup 2007. Many put this down to the young age and fearlessness of the players.
“Yes, we are young and maybe fearless because of that,” said 19-year-old wicket keeper Mushfiqur Rahim. “But we’re also very professional and mature when we’re out on the pitch. We are very aware that have a responsibility to each other as teammates and to the nation to do our best.
”This sense of responsibility and leadership are lessons that they, as international cricket players and role models to millions of young people around the world, are keen to pass on to the next generation of ‘mini-cricketers’. They are also qualities fundamental to HIV prevention.
Although Bangladesh has a low HIV prevalence rate compared with other cricket-playing countries, the players are aware that effective HIV prevention is key to keeping the number down and it is particularly important to target children and young people to ensure an AIDS-free generation.
“Young cricket fans look up to us and we have a role to play in teaching them about HIV prevention and how to protect themselves from infection,” added Mashrafe Mortaza, at 24 the veteran of the team. A fast bowler, Mortaza was the world’s top wicket taker in ODIs in 2006. “We are young but take our responsibilities seriously and do what we can to support the HIV and young people awareness-raising campaign of the ICC”. When in India for the World Champion’s Trophy tournament earlier this year, some of the Bangladeshi cricketers filmed HIV prevention public service announcements, as they are doing again here in Johannesburg to be broadcast during the televised Twenty20 matches.
A number of top players from all 12 teams participating in the international tournament will feature in public services announcements for the ‘Unite for Children. Unite against AIDS’ global campaign bringing attention to the ways in which HIV is affecting the lives of children and young people everywhere.
Coming off the pitch, the Bangladeshi players stopped to greet the youngsters, asked about their bowling and batting skills, and happily posed for group photos with the excited boys. A few then joined in an impromptu game of catch, testing the professed skills of these future cricket stars.
The normally chatty Molefe Makubela, one of the six lucky boys, was almost without words following this close encounter with the cricket stars. All he could say, over and over again, was “It was very nice, it was very nice’ - a big grin on his freckled face.