New study says football is an effective teaching tool for AIDS and HIV prevention programs

Normally I keep the nerdiest research material to myself, but something really exciting and thought-provoking just happened in the world of sports and international development: Coxswain Social Investment has released a new study called “Using Football for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Africa”, and it indicates that football-based AIDS and HIV-prevention programs are highly and uniquely successful.

I’m not surprised by this, but the 55-page report written up all academic-like (the Table of Contents presents no fewer than 15 “findings”) is like a professional reference for the game I love. There’s been a study, there’ve been findings, and they’ve proven what players and fans have known all along: that this people’s game that can be played anywhere in the world with nothing more than a ball is much more than a diversion – it’s a viable delivery model for life-saving messages.

OK, so here’s the thought that provoked me:

3.2 Gender Inequality
The spread of HIV has much to do with gender inequality. HIV is prevalent much more among women than men, and about two thirds of newly-infected young people aged 15-19 years in sub-Saharan Africa are female. Grassroot Soccer stresses the importance of girls benefiting from  prevention efforts by making sure that half its participants are female. In Grassroot Soccer’s Street Skillz Sessions…, football game rules are designed to involve girls as much as possible, for example by counting each goal scored by a girl as two points.
– “Using Football for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Africa”

For some context, Grassroot Soccer is the organization co-founded by former professional soccer player and (TV show) Survivor Ethan Zohn. It’s an organization with a mission I support (“… to provide African youth with the knowledge, skills and support to live HIV-free”) but I’m put off by the practice of handicapping by gender. Ensuring that half of the program participants are female is an obvious and justified mandate, but how does a differential point system play into this? I just don’t get it. [Note: Check out Zak from GRS’ response in the comments. It would appear that this rule in the Street Skillz program is no longer in use, and was never aimed at the AIDS and HIV-prevention aspect of the program. Rather, it was an attempt to facilitate girls’ inclusion by encouraging passing to them.]

I don’t want to take a perfect cause for celebration (yet another example of soccer saving the world) and diminish it by focusing on a single aspect of program delivery. Instead let me present this thought, provoked: Does counting girls’ goals as more than boys’ goals somehow ensure that girls benefit from prevention efforts, whether by encouraging participation in the program or by diminishing gender inequality? If so, how?

For more soccer-related provocation and celebration, download the report here (I found it via Play the Game, which “aims to strengthen the basic ethical values of sport and encourage democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in world sport” – highly recommended reading for the sports development geek.)



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2 responses to “New study says football is an effective teaching tool for AIDS and HIV prevention programs

  1. zak

    Hey, thanks for posting this. The rule you reference was used long ago in street league programs, but is no longer part of GRS street leagues. It was a minor part when it was – aimed at getting boys to actually pass to girls. It had little to do with HIV prevention – all players would participate in GRS’ curriculum. The new Skillz Street program is an all-girls street league.

    Zak Kaufman – GRS

  2. ksenett

    Thanks for the response and the clarification, Zak. This definitely sheds light on the passage from the original text, and I’m pleased to hear that the rule was erroneously connected to GRS’ AIDS and HIV-prevention programs.

    I’ve happily updated that section of the post.


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