HIV Awareness: Dreams Cut Short. Playing the Game and Living Safe.

The ability of sport to transform lives of the least privileged from destitution into lucrative careers has been told and retold. Indeed a number of people from Africa have been saved by their sporting talent from a life of hopelessness to an instant world of opulence beyond their wildest dreams.

Haile Gabrselassie was propelled from early impoverished years in the then War torn Ethiopia into one of the most decorated long distance runners of all time and more recently a hugely successful businessman with a string of interests in Commodity trade and real estate. Mention elite Kenyan runners and you will find a string of business success stories. Kipchog Keino, Moses Kiptanui, Fred Kiprop, Patrik Makau are all shining examples of shrewd business men making it big in the Kenyan property market.

How about those destroyed? Well, not that many will be known in the press but you must have heard of NBA Star Magic Johnson who opened up about his status to the whole world on 7th November 1991. Johnson’s revelation helped raise awareness for HIV/AIDS, causing a sharp rise in HIV testing in the weeks following the press conference. “The announcement by Mr. Johnson, one of the most popular and accomplished players in basketball, stunned the nation and drove home the message that heterosexuals are in danger of getting AIDS,” wrote The New York Times. He motivated many sports men to go and test for HIV hence avoid living in self-denial.

How about Michael Westphal, the famous Tennis star who turned Pro at 18 and represented Germany in the 1984 Olympics making it as far as the Quarterfinals only to die of HIV 7 years later aged 26. Or the infamous Boxer Esteban De Jesus who went 58-5 with 32 by way of knockout. A career tragically ended by HIV at 37 years.

Life choices, mistakes or simply complete ignorance are all plausible causes and as you’d imagine, no group is better placed to promote such awareness than sports journalists whose lives are centred round these sporting gems.

In the absence of proper career and life guidance, many of these youngsters are drawn into destructive habits that expose them to the risk of HIV/AIDS. Indeed, many of them have had their promising careers curtailed by HIV, let alone a lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol which, as you guessed would normally swim in tandem. In the end the very talent that was supposed to be their biggest strength becomes their undoing.

But as AIPS journalists and Sports men out there, we can do something to help these burgeoning talents with proper life, career and behavioural guidance. Today’s Sports Journalists can, and indeed should be the voice of reason, the strong arm on the shoulder that stops these starlets from descending into doom. Being one of the most influential organisations in the world today, AIPS cannot watch sports personalities misuse their stardom to expose themselves to the epidemic and end up being victims of the scourge.

Brothers and sisters from Brazil, Portugal, Africa, Europe and United States of America among others as one big family can help enhance this family by advocating for behavioural change among our followers, brothers and sisters so as to preserve them.

AIPS, I believe we can do it, beginning here, now! Starting with me and you. In Uganda, quite a number of our sports stars have died without living their dreams and as a result, in many cases, have left behind young families without care.

25 Years ago, Uganda became among the first countries to acknowledge the presence of the HIV Epidemic and over 2.5 million people have died due to the scourge with more than 120,000 infected in 2010 and more than 1.2 million people living a positive life. Nearly everyone has lost a close one to this devastating epidemic. The epidemic, highly present among the young and energetic people who at the same time represent the greatest percentage professional Sports men and women the world over.

Today’s travelling sportsmen are related to the heavy Truck drivers who move from one boarder to another, where they end up having sex with any beautiful ladies crossing their faces which put them at a high risk of getting infected.

The Ugandan Sports Press Association (USPA) has embarked on a sensitization campaign among the sportsmen and women which is aimed at saving would-be victims of the scourge. Of course at the centre of all this is ethical reporting being well aware of how sensitive the issue of stigma comes to the fore when discussing HIV related issues.

We are obliged to give back to them since they give us the stories we so much cherish. We have to sensitize them as much as we can, not because they make the stories we relay but also because they are part of the great sports family.

Every one of us can do something with the audience we already have; write a story, make a documentary, blog or tweet; just do something to ensure that someone avoids getting infected. Journalists can use social media, write stories about how some athletes and sports journalists have been affected, caution their followers or make a mention on Radio or TV. Career guidance workshops with sportsmen and schools sports day engagements are also another great avenue to champion the cause.

USPA intends to dedicate the entire month of November to highlighting the issue through several activities (sensitisation, including blood testing and counselling at various sports centres) against the scourge and will be a part of the world AIDS day.

His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has continually called for renewed commitment, increased public attention and Leadership since the epidemic is now at crossroads with many people failing to access treatment due to lack of enough resources.

I hope many must have heard about the effect HIV/AIDS has had on Uganda and how the country fought vigorously to counter the scourge through the ABC (Abstain, Be faithful or use aCondom).

A great appeal goes to all individuals and the international community to join the drive as we combat war against this Epidemic. Every association can do this, it is my humble plea!


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