South Africa is home to the largest HIV-infected population in the world, with nearly 5.7 million infected residents and an average 1,400 new infections each day. The tournament, with its atmosphere of revelry and abundance of alcohol, was thought to increase the likelihood and frequency of unprotected sexual contact. It is estimated that the number of foreign soccer fans flocking to the country for the games is around 450,000. In addition, reports predicted an influx of sex workers to meet the demand of the fans. Some prematch estimates forecasted that up to 40,000 sex workers would make the trip to South Africa during the duration of the tournament. HIV-prevention advocates were concerned that these statistics would combine to paint a grim picture of a possible spike in infections, both during the tournament in South Africa and then later in the home countries of the foreign spectators.
In hopes of lessening unprotected sex and the transmission of HIV, HIV/AIDS groups around the country and internationally secured a supply of well over one billion condoms to be distributed over the course of the tournament. The groups anticipated being allowed to distribute the condoms at the tournament’s main venue in Cape Town as well as at the 16 “fan parks” across the country equipped with Jumbotron screens and hosting approximately 400,000 spectators. They also planned a campaign of public service announcements and advertisements to broadcast during the festivities that emphasized testing, responsibility, and condom use. In addition to trying to having an immediate impact on transmission rates among spectators and revelers, HIV/AIDS awareness organizations, including the AIDS Consortium, Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa, and the Treatment Action Campaign, saw the games as the perfect opportunity to spread a long-lasting message of prevention locally.
However, as the start of the World Cup neared, FIFA failed to grant permission to any of the awareness groups to distribute condoms or information, charging restrictively high prices for advertising time and not responding to the groups’ requests to meet. On June 4, just two days before the start of the tournament, ten South African AIDS organizations, including the South African National AIDS Council, issued a statement condemning the ban imposed by FIFA’s continued inaction and silence. Specifically, they cited the latent hypocrisy in FIFA’s allowing extensive alcohol vending and advertising at the venues while blocking safer-sex materials. Following the release of the statement to the press, FIFA agreed to broadcast Durex commercials, but made no indication that they would allow condom distribution or unpaid public service announcements. A groundswell of support for the HIV/AIDS organizations increased as media coverage continued in widely read international publications, resulting in a large amount of pressure on FIFA.
The games began with no official word on whether or not condom distribution would be allowed, but updates from sports reporters mentioning the availability of condoms at official World Cup venues began to filter in. Without fanfare, FIFA granted the groups access to the venues. Eight-packs of condoms were made available alongside HIV-prevention information in the bathrooms of the main arena and the fan parks.
“We laud the actions and persistence of the dedicated HIV/AIDS organizations in South Africa,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “SIECUS was pleased to learn of the presence of both educational materials and condoms at the games. Silence about the existence of the virus is deadly. In order to effectively curtail the transmission of HIV/AIDS, we must face the issue head-on with proactive, educational measures.”