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PAKISTAN: HIV-positive cricket team bowls them over

Photo: Paddynapper/Flickr
"Cricket is what unifies all Pakistanis"
Hyderabad, 28 August 2009 (PlusNews) - Cricket is more than just a game in Pakistan; it's an obsession. So when a team of HIV-positive players stepped onto the wicket recently for their first match, the stakes were even higher.

"For me, cricket has always been a passion and today, after winning this match, I feel good. It is my bid [to be] accepted in society," said Abdul Latif, the team captain.

HIV-positive people still find it hard to live openly in Pakistan, as widespread misconceptions about AIDS and high levels of stigma and discrimination persist.

Latif was working as a professional cook in Dubai when he found out about his HIV status in 2004 during a routine medical check-up and was deported. After returning to Pakistan he struggled to find a job because of his status, but is now a chef at a hospital for HIV-positive people.

The First Positive Cricket Club team will be competing with other cricket teams at city and district level. Their first match in Hyderabad, in the southern province of Sindh, was against a local youth club.

The stands were not as full as they are for some of the major matches, but the estimated 200 supporters cheered loudly for the rookie team. However, no family members came to watch, as some of the players had not disclosed their status, while others have been shunned by their relatives.

''For me, cricket has always been a passion and today, after winning this match, I feel good.''
The club was formed under the aegis of the Pakistan Society, an NGO working for the rights of people living with the virus and injecting drug users in Sindh Province.

"Cricket is what unifies all Pakistanis, and we wanted to get our message across in the best possible manner. The rationale behind the formation of the HIV-positive cricket team and cricket club is to give the general population an idea that being HIV positive is not a reason why some should be treated like an outcast," the head of the Pakistan Society, Dr Saleem Azam, told IRIN/PlusNews.

The team practiced every day after work for their first match. "We had all been playing it in our youth and continued watching it. However, after getting HIV, we started becoming withdrawn and even energy levels went down," said Saqib Khan (not his real name).

"Yet whenever a cricket match was on, we felt like watching it and would even ask our employer if we could stay at the office and watch it together. For us, it's about being together and playing together."

After a nail-biting innings, the team won handsomely, leaving their opponents and the fans amazed that HIV-positive players could be so active - one of the team members was asked whether antiretroviral medication was also a form of performance-enhancing drugs.

"We are thankful that the authorities were so cooperative with us, and provided us with the space that was needed for the match without any discriminatory attitude. Rather, their attitude was positive and encouraging," said Azhar Hussain Magsi, a manager at the Pakistan Society.

"More matches are scheduled to take place all over Pakistan in the coming weeks ... We are also having talks with other NGOs in India, and look forward to having an international HIV-positive cricket match."

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Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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