What is the point of view of Right to Play on the role of sport in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic?

We asked Right to Play this and other questions to reveal the lessons learned in the past years. Right to Play has implemented many programs and projects and likes to share success factors and pitfalls.

Based on interviews with Lorna Reed, Frank Overhand and Marleen Romeny.

Major challange

HIV/AIDS is a major development challenge in all the sub-Saharan African countries where Right To Play currently implements its programs. At the national government level, short and long term national action plans have been, or are being, developed to fight this epidemic. Research has shown that sport and play are effective but underutilized tools which can be incorporated in programs to address health, education, environment and economic issues.

SportHealth program

With regard to health, and the fight against HIV/AIDS in particular, Right To Play can support national health priorities and align with local realities through the SportHealth program. The SportHealth program, through partnerships with local community based organisations, adds value to existing programs by building the capacity of civil society and grassroots organisations on the use of sport and play to enhance their programs for children and youth. Host country nationals are trained to become coaches in specific Right To Play-modules focused on HIV/AIDS prevention education. Once the coaches have successfully completed the training, they have the competencies required to use sport and play activities to educate children in an engaging manner. This participatory approach fosters greater community involvement in the program, which is a key prerequisite for sustainability of Right To Play's programs.

Role of sport

The role of sport and play in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic is multifaceted. In general, sport is an ideal means to reach out to and equip young people with the information that contributes to behaviour that helps them protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. Sport is a perfect medium to transmit non-political messages about HIV/AIDS prevention to young people at risk, and to provide children and youth with the skills necessary to establish and sustain healthy behaviour patterns. Its overwhelming popularity facilitates open discussion about sensitive issues such as safer sex, stigma and discrimination. It thus provides a powerful communication and mobilization platform for effective prevention campaigns. Prominent athletes and local coaches can be strong role models and exert a positive influence on the children and youth they reach.

The involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS in sport-based prevention initiatives is also a powerful means of reducing HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination and can contribute significantly to successful HIV prevention efforts. In addition, the inclusion of sport federations and other NGOs in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts that use sport and play activities to transmit prevention messages can contribute significantly to increase the reach and impact of prevention initiatives.

Add value

How is this point of view integrated in the sport development activities of Right to Play?

The purpose of the SportHealth program is to use sport and play as tools to enhance holistic child development, build individual capacity, strengthen community partnerships and networks, and to use the convening power of sport to support national health priorities like immunization, HIV/AIDS and disease prevention. The SportHealth program adds value to existing programs and thus to the overall development effort at the community and national level. This alternative approach to strengthen civil society in the use of sport and play activities calls for participation at all levels which is key to longer term sustainability.