A look at the history of cricket's support for UNAIDS and UNICEF over the past decade
The sight of leading cricketers wearing red ribbons on their shirts at ICC events has become a familiar one in recent years, but have you ever wondered why the players do this?
South Asia, Africa and Caribbean, three geographical regions where cricket is a popular sport, are also the most heavily HIV/AIDS-affected regions in the world.
In an attempt to address this, UNAIDS, the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, and the International Cricket Council came together in September 2003 to launch the Think Wise initiative. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), whose focus is children and mothers in developing countries, joined the partnership in 2006.
Over the last decade, the ICC has been a perfect facilitator for UNAIDS and UNICEF in raising awareness about the epidemic across all cricket-playing nations, and also in addressing the stigma and discrimination surrounding the disease.
Isa Guha, Stafanie Taylor, Nathan Bracken, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Graeme Smith, Virender Sehwag, Kumar Sangakkara, and Shakib-Al-Hasan are among those that have championed the cause by lending their faces and voices to various HIV-prevention projects around the world. Sangakkara, in particular, has been a strong believer in using his celebrity status to make a difference.
During a visit to the Terrence Higgins Trust in London in 2011, the Guardian quoted him as saying: “It has been great to actually meet people rather than just talk into a camera about HIV and HIV awareness.”
He added, “It is when there are no cameras and no one there to write about it or talk about it. That is when you actually do something worthwhile to help people.” The players have understood their importance in the wider community, and their chance to make a positive impact beyond the game.
Smith, during a visit to Kimberley’s Sinothando Children’s home earlier this year, said to the ICC website, “Having been a Think Wise Champion for a number of years now, it is vital as cricketers that we continue to use our profile to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, which is such a prevalent issue in cricket playing countries.”
While there is no definitive scale to estimate the number of lives the initiative has touched, global media exposure, integrated with on-ground activities, have generated substantial social capital.
At the grassroots level, different interactive programmes throughout the year have contributed to the cause. The Maasai Cricket Warriors team hosted a mini-cricket tournament in Laikipia, Kenya and delivered prevention messages to children to mark World AIDS day in 2011.
As a part of the ICC World Twenty20 2012, the West Indian and South African players will be involved in various awareness-raising activities. Messages from Sangakkara and Sehwag will be played on the big screen, and as a tradition that started in 2004, the men and women will sport a red ribbon during the semi-final matches to show their commitment to the cause. The match officials will also sport the Think Wise logo on their sleeves.
Shakib, who was appointed as the Think Wise spokesperson for Bangladesh in November 2010, said prior to the start of the World Twenty20 2012, “When young people receive correct, complete information about HIV and AIDS, they gain the power to make informed decisions. They also acquire the tools to reverse misconceptions and social stigma.”
A bus embossed with HIV messages, red ribbons and the faces of world cricketing stars is also making a whistle stop tour through more than a hundred sites in Sri Lanka. Carrying young volunteers, the bus is part of the HIV awareness-raising campaign “Let’s talk” taking place around the tournament.
The bus has been on the road since late August. Using the power of cricket it aims to reach out to thousands of young people in Sri Lanka providing them with HIV information as well as inviting them to talk about AIDS.
As the bus pulls up at one of the designated stops, the vibrant young volunteers greet locals with music, dance and organise activities including street cricket and an HIV quiz. With tickets to the Twenty20 final as the prize, the quiz along with the other activities is intended to help promote key HIV prevention and anti-discrimination messages.