World cricket players have united in a call to young fans to 'get the facts' about HIV prevention and to help eliminate AIDS-related stigma and discrimination. The call is part of a United Nations and International Cricket Council (ICC) HIV awareness-raising campaign taking place alongside the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) tournament in Sri Lanka, which runs until 7 October.
Rallying support for the campaign known as 'Think Wise' - an initiative of the ICC, UNAIDS and UNICEF - players from the South African Cricket team interacted with young people living with and affected by HIV in Colombo on 26 September.
“It is very important to create awareness on HIV - not only for our generation but also for the generation to come,” said South African player JP Duminy. “HIV is an issue for South Africa and the whole world and sport is one of the things that can bring nations together on important issues,” he added.
JP Duminy and his team-mates gave the youth attending the event tips on how to improve their batting, bowling and fielding skills during a specialized coaching session. At the same time, they spoke openly about HIV with the youth participants, stressing the importance of young people being informed, staying protected and eliminating harmful stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV.
A similar interaction session was held earlier in the WT20 tournament between players of the West Indies cricket team and children living with HIV. “This is definitely a great initiative and it's important that young people are educated on the methods of protecting themselves from HIV,” said Trinidadian leg spin bowler Samuel Badree.
Commending the players' commitment to raising awareness on HIV, Steven Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific said: “We are all striving for the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. Cricket and cricketing stars have the power to unite and reach beyond national boundaries, driving efforts towards 'getting to zero' and ending AIDS.”
Outrunning AIDS: towards an AIDS-free generation
Young people taking part in the 'Think Wise' activities emphasized the benefit of such events. “It was great to have the opportunity to play cricket with the teams and it was very important because of the reach that the campaign is having with the public - great opportunities for many important conversations,” a young participant said.
More than 40% of the new HIV infections globally are being reported among 15-24 year olds, which means that 3000 young people are being newly infected with the virus every day. Stigma against people living with HIV and people from communities at higher risk is still widespread across many cricket playing countries.
“Stigma and discrimination undermine our vision of an AIDS-free generation. This can be realized only if we all respect the rights of those living with or affected by HIV," said Rachel Odede, HIV Advisor in the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, underlining the importance of this Think Wise theme.
For almost a decade, and with the help of 'Think Wise' Champions including Virender Sehwag (India), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies) among others, the ICC/UNAIDS/UNICEF 'Think Wise' campaign has used the power of cricket to help address key issues around AIDS, particularly for young people across the major cricket-playing countries.
“Through cricket we can reach millions of people and the message is clear: Let's talk more about HIV, let's get informed. We know that stigma kills. Let's 'Think Wise', don't stigmatize,” said Indian batsman and 'Think Wise' Champion Virender Sehwag during the WT20 tournament.
ICC CEO David Richardson added: “The profile and reach of the ICC World T20 gives us an opportunity to raise awareness and reduce stigma about HIV and, along with the players, we are delighted to help this cause.”
For the duration of the WT20, a public service announcement featuring Kumar Sangakkara and Virender Sehwag will be screened at all tournament matches. Players from the teams taking part in the men's and women's semi-finals will wear red ribbons as a sign of solidarity for people living with HIV and umpires and referees will also sport the 'Think Wise' logo on their shirt sleeves.