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Nepalis give Aids the red card

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Players posing for the camera
The game included men and women
A brave full-length dive from goalkeeper Alok Satyal was to no avail.

Deepak Bista had just scored the second and clinching goal for the ARV Superstars in their special match against the blue-and-white HIV Warriors.

The crowd of a couple of thousand whooped and whistled in the slanting sunlight. The men and women players in orange and blue high-fived each other. The police clapped.

"Love life - stop Aids" shouted one of the billboard slogans lining the national football stadium.

Celebrities and footballers

Nepal is a sport-loving, particularly football-loving, nation. It may be more of a loser than a winner in international sports but it lacks nothing in spirit. This match for World Aids Day brought together four dozen players (there were lots of substitutions) in a unisex match played in a mood of enormous goodwill.

Organised by a charity which uses media for social messages, Equal Access, and in particular its radio programme Saathi Sanga Manka Kura (Chatting with my Best Friend), its proceeds are going straight to the treatment and care of HIV-positive children throughout the country.

The message of today's match is inclusion
Organiser Nirmal Rijal

Many of the players were themselves people living with HIV. The rest included celebrities from all walks of life. Goal scorer Deepak Bista is in fact a taekwondo star. Also in the fray were a national cricketer, a former Miss Nepal, a student political leader and nationally renowned singers and actors not forgetting a clutch of professional footballers.

Several said they wanted to give something back to the society that had honoured them.

Players during the game
Nepal's footballers played against celebrities and even a cricketer

"I had so much fun," said national soccer star Nirajan Rayamajhi after the game. "I've never felt quite like that when I've played before."

Like the others, he said that Nepalis generally lacked sufficient knowledge about HIV and Aids.

You do see billboard messages about condoms and prevention in Kathmandu and other affected parts of the country.

But in this socially conservative country, estimated to have some 70,000 HIV-positive people, there is more to be done.

Hugs and cheers

"The message of today's match is inclusion," said one of the organisers, Nirmal Rijal of Equal Access. "We play together men and women, HIV-positive and negative. Also we wanted to engage the celebrities."

Mr Rijal said there were large numbers of children affected by their parents' illness, especially in western Nepal where there is a huge outflow of migrant labourers to India.

But there were also, he said, many orphans who were themselves infected yet none of the national HIV/Aids programmes were child-specific. "It's high time for this to be addressed," he said.

I'm very happy we could all play football together
Comedian Deepak Raj Giri

At the end of the match there were hugs all round and a lot of rowdy cheering as each player was given a certificate of appreciation.

Comic actor Deepak Raj Giri, who stars in a massively popular television series called Bitter Truth, told the BBC that there was still too much of a stigma attached to HIV-positive people in Nepal.

Player receiving award
Every player received an award for taking part

"People don't want to touch or shake hands with them. I've even heard of a doctor not wanting to," he said. "So I'm very happy we could all play football together."

The comedian reflected ruefully on having played in the losing team.

"I lost this game because there was a goalkeeper," he sighed, straight-faced. "I told him not to look at the ball when I was in possession just look here and there," I said.

"But totally he looked at the ball. If he hadn't, I'd have scored two or three goals!"



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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Nepal
28 Aug 08 |  Country profiles

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