Football's role in the African fight against HIV/AIDS

A Japanese organisation that fights AIDS has unveiled a new program aimed at engaging the 12 million African children orphaned by AIDS by getting them to play football. The joint Japanese-African program seeks to address the social disruptions AIDS has caused on the continent by establishing youth football leagues, said Adjei-Barwuah Barfour, Ghana's ambassador to Japan. "These are not issues you tackle with drugs," Barfour told Associated Press.

Tomiko Abe, the chief director of the Stop AIDS Organization, told a news conference she was inspired to use football as a means of healing "the wound on (the orphans') heart" when she saw how happily they received her gift of a football on a mission to Sierra Leone. "Even one football can give a dream to orphans," she said, speaking through a translator. Abe, along with ambassadors to Japan from 10 African countries, hopes to use the international interest in football to focus attention on the need for a multifaceted response to AIDS.

Stop AIDS has designed a football, covered with red AIDS ribbons, that will be used by both the youth leagues and during the cup finals of all the participating countries. Awori Dennis, the Kenyan ambassador to Japan, said that he hoped the footballs, many of which have been signed by players from their national teams and by members of parliament, would "galvanize" the global community in its efforts to fight the disease. "As they play, they see the red signal. It must be a message. The world must get involved," Godfrey added.

Stop AIDS is planning a tournament next year in Morocco, where youth teams from the 10 participating countries will compete. The group also hopes to organize a match for the young players at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.