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Under the Spotlight: World Cup 2010 and AIDS Awareness Campaigns

June 14, 2010

World Cup: The Other South Africa Once again, World Cup fever is upon us. As soccer fans turn their eyes and switch their television channels to the games in South Africa, the host of the 2010 tournament and home to the largest number of HIV carriers worldwide, AIDS organizations are taking advantage of the media blitz to raise awareness of the global epidemic and promote HIV prevention. Just as competition on the pitch begins to heat up, another battle is brewing between major South African AIDS organizations and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). Last week, The Guardian UK reported that AIDS organizations accused FIFA of blocking access to condoms at tournament venues and at FIFA-sponsored events. In a press statement, the organizations charge that FIFA is preventing civil society groups from distributing health information pamphlets, even as the football association endorsed the advertising of alcohol by its commercial sponsors. FIFA, as The Washington Post reports, has denied such allegations and confirmed that it will broadcast messages about HIV/AIDS and advertise Durex condoms during matches. However, the AIDS organizations responded by pointing out that the cost of Durex products are too expensive for most South Africans and that there are millions of condoms in supply for distribution. The need for wide distribution of condoms especially affects women, particularly sex workers. The influx of visitors to South Africa is predicted to fuel the sex industry and there is even speculation that girls and women from neighboring African nations are being trafficked into the country to meet demand. Religious leaders have also urged the government to take measures to protect sex workers, who are economically vulnerable and are exposed to lethal health risks. Organizations advocating for the rights of sex workers are also emphasizing the importance of safety and protection rather than criminalizing prostitution, which only makes the risks to which this community is exposed even more invisible. Moreover, the unique impact that AIDS has on women remains seldom discussed. The high rates of sexual violence in South Africa suggest that women are not only vulnerable to infection, but are often disempowered from being able to negotiate safer sex practices. While the government officially promotes condom use, much remains to be desired--as the rape charges against South African president, Jacob Zuma, and his misguided remarks on HIV-prevention suggest--when it comes to addressing gender issues related to health and sexual violence. The dispute between the sport’s governing body and non-profit organizations points to the power dynamics at work when it comes to setting the terms of discourse for AIDS awareness and HIV-prevention. Well-intentioned FIFA may be, but to what extent are its corporate obligations standing in the way of of civil society groups, which are more familiar with the challenges of fighting AIDS in South Africa? Moreover, this being the first time that the World Cup is hosted by an African nation, the stakes for South Africa to impress are high and, as the world's media attention turns to South Africa, the state has been eager to counter the stereotypical portrayal of the continent as a place of poverty, disaster and disease. Even as the nation enters the spotlight and unites the world in watching the most beautiful game on the earth, to what extent are its people able to represent issues of great urgency to them on their own terms?