Kolkata, June 27, 2007 – India’s top football clubs, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting -- played exhibition matches across the eastern state of West Bengal to mark the Global AIDS Action Week.
In a bid to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and to express solidarity for care, protection and support to people and children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, the matches were organised in six districts of the state by the government’s Department of Sports and Youth Services in partnership with UNICEF.
“The matches involving top players of the leading football clubs provided a channel of communication to inform young people about HIV/AIDS prevention and to fight stigma and discrimination associated with children living with HIV/AIDS,” said Subhash Chakraborty, Minister-In-Charge, Sports, Youth Services and Transport, West Bengal.
HIV and AIDS affected children and members of the People Living with HIV and AIDS Network met and interacted with the players during the opening ceremony of each match. Children living with HIV/AIDS tied Suraksha Bandhan on the wrist of the players, taking a promise from them to take up the issues of children in their fight against HIV and AIDS.
Suraksha Bandhan is a red and blue coloured band in which red signifies the fight against HIV/AIDS and blue signifies that children are the missing face of HIV and AIDS. It also symbolises the creation of a circle of protection around children living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Football stars including Alvito D'cunha, Edmilson Marques, Mehatab Hoossian, Chandan Das and Asim Biswas of East Bengal, Jose Barretto, Lalkamal Bhowmick of Mohun Bagan and Basudev Mondal, Rocky Bareto and Raman Vijayan of Mohammed Sporting were tied the Suraksha Bandhan bands and red ribbons.
Mohammed Sporting Clubs captain Mir Farooque Haider was visibly moved when four-year-old Reshmi tied the band around his wrist. Reshmi who is HIV+ lost her father to AIDS. Her mother, also positive, joined the People Living with HIV and AIDS Network to fight the problems collectively.
The matches were held in Jalpaiguri, Malda, Murshidabad, Purulia, North 24 Paraganas and Nadia. These districts are high prevalence or highly vulnerable to the spread of HIV and AIDS owing to high levels of migration and closeness to international borders, as well as the presence of large numbers of people from high risk groups.
East Bengal, one of the most popular football clubs in India played three of the six exhibition matches against District Sports Association teams and won them all. Mohammed Sporting Club played two matches and Mohun Bagan played one.
The matches also witnessed participation of senior political leaders, PRI members, elected political functionaries including Members of Parliaments and Legislative Assembly and ex-football players. At each venue, leaders, district health and administration officials and other prominent personalities spoke about the need to play cohesively like a football team in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
In West Bengal, football is extremely popular among young people. The matches were watched by nearly 100,000 enthusiastic young supporters of the premier football clubs from Kolkata and the six District Sports Association teams. Daring heavy monsoon rains, spectators poured into the stadiums to watch the matches. Lack of space was also not a deterrent with many climbing onto rooftops, window ledges, treetops and even poles surrounding the stadiums.
Communication activities for HIV/AIDS prevention including IEC materials like leaflets, banners, public announcements and media coverage reached an estimated 300,000 people over a two-week period.
Thanking the government and the players for their support, Sumita Ganguly, State Representative, UNICEF West Bengal, said, “We feel the collective effort will surely help us to arrest the spread of HIV and AIDS in India. With such cooperation and commitment from all, we aim to have society free of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS one day”.
The exhibition matches were supported under the Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS global campaign initiated by UNAIDS and UNICEF and launched in India on 25 October 2005 by the then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. This campaign calls upon everyone to put the care and protection of children, adolescents and young people at the centre of the HIV/AIDS agenda.
Preventing HIV among young people is at the core of UNICEF’s global and India response. Along with partners, UNICEF has been implementing “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” campaign that focuses on “Four Ps” -- primary prevention among young people; prevention of mother-to-child transmission; paediatric Anti-retroviral treatment; and protection and care for children affected by HIV/AIDS. With DFID support, UNICEF developed partnerships with a range of agencies like the Panchayat system, government departments, networks of people living with HIV/AIDS, NGOs, young people and other stakeholders in the state of West Bengal.