Johannesburg — The excitement over the FIFA World Cup is not just about football, it's also about the party. Large quantities of alcohol are sure to be consumed as foreign football fans rub shoulders with locals, and inhibitions are likely to fall away.
The World Cup has long been associated with boom times for the sex trade, but in a country where one in five adults is living with HIV, the price of throwing caution to the wind and having unprotected sex with a local, let alone a sex worker, could be extremely high.
The international media have been quick to point this out, as well as the potential for the month-long event to contribute to a rise in HIV infections, but the HIV/AIDS community here has been more inclined to view the World Cup as a golden opportunity to reach fans with messages about HIV.
At a symposium convened by the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) in November 2009, health officials, activists and NGOs resolved to do just that.
However, the funding has not materialized and, according to SANAC deputy chairperson Mark Heywood, neither has leadership from FIFA or the South African government.
"There were big plans, and they haven't come off. FIFA has not engaged SANAC on how the event can be used to assist with messaging and mobilizing around HIV, and consequently we're faced with a dreadful missed opportunity," he told IRIN/PlusNews.
"We know that the excitement around the World Cup and the influx of visitors will encourage risky behaviour, and we ought to be mitigating that, but as it stands now, SANAC is unable to implement its fairly modest plans because it does not have the R4 million (US$516,000) to put them into effect."
Civil society has been left to take the lead in championing HIV/AIDS efforts, but has battled to get permission to run activities in the stadiums and FIFA-sponsored fan parks.
Mabalane Mfundisi, coordinator of SANAC's Sports and Entertainment Sector, which is overseeing HIV activities linked to the World Cup, said they had "knocked at FIFA's doors" about running wellness centres at the stadiums and fan parks, but to no avail.
FIFA and its Local Organising Committee (LOC) have denied any knowledge of such a request, but several NGOs told IRIN/PlusNews they had encountered similar problems in gaining access to stadiums and fan parks and this week several AIDS organizations issued a joint statement condemning FIFA and the LOC "for blocking access to the distribution of condoms, and to HIV prevention and health related information within FIFA controlled stadia and Fan Fests."
"We went through endless long procedures to try to get access and then, with 30 days to go, decided not to pursue it any more," said Richard Delate, country programme director for Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa, one of the organizations behind the statement. "We'll be doing things in local communities now; we've redirected our energies."
UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé has reportedly sent a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, urging him to support the South African government's HIV efforts and the NGOs that issued the statement have requested an urgent meeting with FIFA and the LOC to respond to their concerns.
There were big plans, and they haven't come off
Heywood endorsed the statement, but felt government also had an obligation to put more pressure on FIFA. "I get the sense they're very deferential with them, and that FIFA is very thick-skinned and their exclusive interest is a successful World Cup that's insulated from the day-to-day challenges of our country," he said.
Mfundisi said SANAC would be coordinating various NGOs to run wellness centres at public viewing areas not controlled by FIFA. The centres will provide HIV/AIDS information, testing and condoms.
FIFA has agreed to the installation of condom dispensers in toilets at the stadiums, but it is unclear whether there will be enough condoms available to supply the whole country over the World Cup period.
Meisie Lerutla of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said an estimated 100 million condoms would be needed to meet increased demand during the event. Her agency is supplying 3.5 million female condoms to the wellness centres while the British government has donated 42 million male condoms.
A spokesperson for the South African health department, Fidel Hadebe, confirmed that only 55 million additional condoms would be distributed. Of those, one million have been given to the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (SABCOHA), which is partnering with the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA) to put specially branded condoms in hotel rooms throughout the country.
Footballers join AIDS fight
Dr Marlene Wasserman, a sexologist and director of the Sexual Health Centre in Cape Town, said the problem was not the quantity of condoms available during the tournament, but the lack of a high-profile safer sex campaign.
"There needs to be awareness that [football fans] shouldn't come to this country without a condom and knowing how to use it," she said.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]