A football player who is a member of SAFPU to disclose his HIV positive status.

With strides that South Africa has made to fight against HIV and TB, stigma and discrimination against those who are positive remains the greatest killer. To overcome stigma, we need men and women who are positive, who like Magic Johnson did at the height of his basketball career, disclosed his status. The Magic Johnson Moment for the South African Football Players Union (SAFPU) where a football player will disclose his HIV status so that through his disclosure, we as a country can win against HIV and AIDS.

The disclosure will happen on Friday, 4 Dec 2015 at 12h30 as part of the Gauteng Provincial AIDS Council’s World AIDS Week taking place at the Tshwane Events Centre. In 2005, SAFPU commissioned a study on HIV and AIDS within the professional football teams and players in South Africa, with emphasis on the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and National First Division (NFD). The study that was conducted by ECI-Africa, revealed key issues about HIV and AIDS with respect to how the players perceived these issues.

Through the study, SAFPU developed an HIV and AIDS Workplace Based Policy to help guide the football industry on how to deal with HIV and AIDS for their employees (players). This policy was completed in 2006 based on the study, and was launched in the same year. Key amongst the findings of the study were the followings:

  • Football players were, like all South Africans, affected and some were infected by HIV and AIDS.
  • The soccer teams, as employers of these football players did not have any wellness, treatment and psycho-social support for the players affected and infected.
  • Most players, because of the prevailing employer-employee relations and conditions, were afraid to test let alone disclose their HIV status.
  • Players were not ready to disclose their HIV status given high levels of victimization by their teams and the fear of discrimination by their peers and the general population.

The policy was developed to address amongst others, the above issues so that the players, the administrators, the team owners, the fans and the general South African populace is able to fight and win against HIV and AIDS with football being an active and involved participant, with SAFPU leading supported by the others in this beautiful game. SAFPU is involved and contributes to the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) where it is a constituent member of the Sport, Arts & Culture Sector of SANAC. In 2006, Show Me Your Number HIV Prevention Project, a not-for-profit organisation was established to drive HIV prevention through using football as a platform for engagement. This entity started out with the sole mandate of advocating for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for football players.

The establishment of Show Me Your Number was influenced by the SAFPU research and the policy. Show Me Your Number later added other sporting codes in its area of focus. Amongst the key highlights of this project was involving former professional football players as ambassadors to drive engagement with the other players, teams and supporters about HIV through using football as a catalyst. Thabang Lebese, who passed away in 2012 due to HIV complications, was one of these former professional soccer players involved in the project. Although Thabang could not come to terms with his own HIV status and disclose his condition whilst he was still alive, in his death he had requested his family to disclose HIV as the cause of his death. His family duly complied, and this single act helped raise the need for disclosure and support for those infected by HIV and AIDS.

Since the start of this year, SAFPU has been engaging and providing support to one football player who discovered his HIV positive status and approached SAFPU for support. Part of the support provided for this player included psycho-social support and assisting him with enrolment into treatment in order to receive anti-retroviral treatment available from a government health facility close to where he stays. This player is now ready to disclose his status, and help others to do like him. He is living openly with his status, and he is healthy and promoting a healthy lifestyle. He is an embodiment of somebody taking responsibility for his own life. Because he feels he is ready, and because this week is the week where South Africa and the world is celebrating World AIDS Day, the player and SAFPU have agreed that he will disclose his status.