Since I’m a passionate soccer fan, I tend to gravitate toward the soccer community in each country I visit. In fact, I always pack a pair of cleats just in case I hang out with the locals and get the coveted invite to play in a Sunday match. Lucky for me, today I’m in South Africa where all eyes will be focused as the world’s largest sporting event kicks off. The FIFA World Cup is the greatest exhibition of athleticism, pride, nationalism, emotion, creativity and competition our planet will ever see. It’s a sensational moment for this place that I have grown to love – to be able to showcase to the world the refreshing beauty, diversity and culture that Africa offers.
It’s also an ideal time to get the world excited to tackle some of the most daunting issues facing the region – like the AIDS pandemic that continues to take the lives of nearly 4,000 people a day in sub-Saharan Africa.
The good news is that incredible progress has been made over the past 8 years and millions of lives are being saved. In 2002, nearly 29 million people in sub-Saharan Africa had HIV, yet only 50,000 people could afford the $10,000 a year treatment they needed to stay alive. Today, because of political will, the efforts of global health organizations, like the Global Fund, and contributions from the private sector, the cost of antiretroviral drugs is now around 40 cents a day in Africa, and more than three million people on the continent are now receiving treatment.
This epidemic is not being stopped by treatment alone – education and prevention programs are also critical. Grassroot Soccer, which uses soccer programs to educate young people on the importance of knowing their status and how to stay HIV negative, is creating a generation that is more informed and better equipped to beat this disease. In fact, we have just reached an inflection point where new infections are actually decreasing across Africa.
We are at a critical time where we must ensure the progress we’ve made does not slip away and, instead, use it as a foundation for reaching our goal of ultimately eliminating this disease.
Right now, Yahoo! is joining the fight by pledging to contribute USD $1, up to USD $100,000, to the Global Fund for every penalty kick scored in the Yahoo! Penalty Shootout game, on June 11. 100% of this money will go to the Global Fund, the organization that receives (RED) funds, and will help finance AIDS programs in Africa to provide access to treatment, prevention and education programs, testing and more. To date, (RED) has generated over $150 million to support Global Fund-financed AIDS programs like this in South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Rwanda, Lesotho and Swaziland. 100% of this money is put to work in these grants, no overhead is taken out.
I’ll be one of the first to try my penalty kick as I sit in Cape Town, South Africa getting ready to start one of our Grassroot Soccer Skillz camps in partnership with (RED). This is one of more than 40 programs Grassroot Soccer will be hosting throughout South Africa during the World Cup to give kids, who will be out of school, a healthy option for the day and a strong foundation on how to live HIV free.
The beauty of soccer is that away from professional stadiums, monster lights, and perfect grass fields, there’s another side of the sport. Hidden away on alleys, dusty fields and concrete courts, people play in improvised games. Simply arriving on a street with a ball instantly grants you many new friends. But the one thing that remains the same no matter where you find yourself playing, is that decisive moment right before scoring the epic penalty shot.
-Ethan Zohn was a professional soccer player for the Hawaii Tsunami and Cape Cod Crusaders of the United Soccer Leagues and in Zimbabwe for Highlanders Football Club. He is also the co-founder of Grassroot Soccer, which uses the power of soccer to provide African youth with the knowledge, life-skills and support to live HIV-free.