Feature story

Hitting HIV for six: Star cricketers unite with people living with HIV in India

10 March 2011

Captain of the South African cricket team and Think Wise champion Graeme Smith and a young participant take a catch at the training session organized with people living with HIV.

Sonu Kumar grips the cricket ball in his hand, takes his run up and bowls a fast ball. Reacting quickly, his opponent angles his bat and smashes the ball out of the ground for six.

But this is no ordinary cricket match. Sonu is a 14 year-old living with HIV, knocking around balls with cricketing great Graeme Smith and his colleagues from the South African team. The occasion, a special HIV awareness-raising practice session organized as part of the International Cricket Council, UNAIDS and UNICEF Think Wise campaign during the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

The Think Wise campaign encourages young people to learn how to prevent HIV infection and stand up against stigma and discrimination. At the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi, Graeme Smith—South African Captain and official ambassador for the Think Wise campaign— and teammates took time out of their match schedules to promote the campaign messages.

“We play sport and love cricket, like so many others in this country. By training together the cricketers are showing their support for people living with HIV and help break down discrimination we often face,” said Sonu.

In the presence of supporters and media, a group of ten young people joined the elite cricketers, mixing training with talking about HIV. They participated in drills on the field with Richard Pybus, coach of the South African cricket team. Later the young people discussed their experience living with HIV with the team, asking questions about the role of cricketers in addressing issues of HIV related stigma.

The key for us is to educate people during the tournament—to help prevent HIV and to show that people living with HIV lead normal lives. I believe this will contribute in reducing stigma.

Graeme Smith, captain of the South African cricket team and Think Wise champion.

 “HIV is a very real disease and has affected people all around the world including in our country and here in India,” said Mr Smith during the practice session. “The key for us is to educate people during the tournament—to help prevent HIV and to show that people living with HIV lead normal lives. I believe this will contribute in reducing stigma,” he said.

Underlining the broad reach of cricket in India and across the world, UNAIDS Country Coordinator Charles Gilks said, “Cricket has a huge following in India and cricket stars can be very powerful agents for change. We are particularly pleased to link up with Think Wise champions as we aim for the UNAIDS’ hat-trick of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”

Hospital gets Sehwag treatment

In another Think Wise activity taking place in India, Think wise champion and India’s opening batsman Virender Sehwag called on cricket fans across the world to stop discrimination against people living with HIV.

Mr Sehwag made his plea after visiting the Haji Sir Ismail Sait Ghosha hospital in Bengaluru where he met people whose lives have been affected by HIV.

“People living with HIV are no different from anybody else. There needs to be more awareness of what it means to be living with HIV,” said Mr Sehwag. “As cricketers, particularly in a country like India, we are in a position to help influence attitudes and behaviour and by being involved in the Think Wise campaign hopefully I can play my part,” he said.