The soccer World Cup begins in less than a week in South Africa, which has the world's largest population of HIV-positive people. Yet FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, is preventing the distribution of condoms at World Cup venues.
Alcohol advertisements are permitted at World Cup stadiums and other venues, but distribution of free condoms and safe sex information? Not so much. There are some 71 million condoms in circulation in South Africa, according to government officials, with nearly as many more on hand if needed. Great Britain, anticipating the public health consequences of thousands of football fans descending on a country in the grip of an HIV epidemic, donated 42 million condoms to South Africa in March—but even all of this may not be enough, since along with the football fans it's anticipated will arrive tens of thousands of prostitutes. Yet it hardly matters how many condoms there are, if they can't get into the hands of the people who need them. Enter FIFA, which has governance over World Cup venues, and which only allows official sponsors to promote themselves there. So far, they have kept the HIV/AIDS organizations totally shut out.
Given South Africa's relationship to HIV/AIDS, this is disgraceful. South Africa has more HIV-positive people than any other country—that's 5.7 million people, or one in every five adults. Each day there are about a thousand deaths from AIDS, and roughly 1400 new HIV infections. Activists are frustrated and angry over their inability to use the World Cup as an opportunity both to educate about this public-health crisis, and to give condoms to potentially drunk football fans about to make a life-changing mistake.
"To date, FIFA has not permitted any civil society organization to distribute HIV or health related information and FIFA has not provided any written confirmation that condoms may be distributed at stadia and within the fan fests," said the AIDS Consortium, the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society and several other organisations in a sharply-worded statement. They point out that this recalcitrance runs directly against governmental efforts that began in April and aim to test 15 million South Africans in the next year; South African President Jacob Zuma was even tested. Referring to these efforts, the NGOs' statement continues, "The World Cup is an opportunity to take forward this campaign and to combine sport with messages about HIV prevention and healthy living that can be heard by millions. It would be a tragedy to miss it."
"Tragedy" is putting it mildly.