By Karien Jonckheere.
Legendary basketballer Magic Johnson has done it, find so has five time Olympic medallist Greg Louganis. But somehow South African sportspeople just aren’t following suit in disclosing their HIV status.
In a country where one in every 10 people is infected with the virus, cheap the statistics dictate that there are huge numbers of HIV positive athletes in South Africa.
But, dosage apparently this country is not as accepting of HIV positive role models.
Or as Nathan Geffen, policy co-ordinator of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), believes, government is making it difficult for people to come forward and disclose their status.
“I’m sure the reason for their reluctance to disclose their status is the same as many famous people in that they are afraid of the public stigma,” explained Geffen.
“One or two athletes disclosing their status could change the environment completely though and they can be assured of TAC’s full support.”
Geffen said he wasn’t aware of any athletes who had come out and said they had contracted the virus.
“I don’t know of any South African athletes who have done that – only international stars like Magic Johnson and Greg Louganis.
“But if high profile athletes came out and disclosed their HIV status it would help things tremendously.
I think with all the pseudo science from government people, like our minister of health, it creates a difficult environment to deal maturely with HIV. People are afraid because they don’t want to be involved in the controversy,” he said.
“At the moment the brunt of the public awareness of HIV is born by poor people who come out and disclose their status. There are very few well-known people in South Africa who have done the same.”
Kirk Friedrich, Managing Director of Grassroots Soccer (an international organisation that uses local heros and professional soccer players to educate at-risk youth on the dangers of HIV) is also unaware of any South African sportspeople who have disclosed their status.
“Nobody that I know of unfortunately,” he said. “I know of many that are infected, including some that are working in our programme, but nobody who will disclose their status. It’s a serious challenge I’m afraid. It’s really too bad,” he said.
While sports celebrities have spoken out in promoting the prevention of HIV, so far in South Africa, only soccer player Sizwe Motaung, the former Bafana Bafana vice-captain, has been linked to actually contracting the virus, after his death in 2001. His former wife Zodwa Khoza (daughter of Orlando Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza and brand manager for the club) died of AIDS-related complications earlier this year.
Johnson and Louganis, meanwhile, have been instrumental in AIDS education programmes in the United States. Johnson established the Magic Johnson Foundation, aimed at helping inner-city children in dealing with HIV/AIDS and raising money for research and prevention efforts, and in 1996 wrote a book titled What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS. – Heartlines Features