On a recent visit to the Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre and Grassroot Soccer (GRS) in South Africa, Founder and Chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Sir Elton John, emphasized the role that football can play in fighting the AIDS epidemic: “Soccer stars are the most powerful role models for young people today... so it’s fantastic that organisations like Grassroots Soccer are harnessing that power to educate young people about HIV’.

The Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre was opened on 5 December 2009 and is part of “20 Centres for 2010”, the official campaign of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ to promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities across Africa. Each of the 20 centres will be run by an existing community organisation. The Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre will help to tackle HIV/AIDS, one of the biggest issues facing young people across Africa. The centre is managed by Grassroot Soccer, a non-profit organisation that uses football to educate young people about HIV and AIDS and empower them with the knowledge to live HIV-free.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation is pleased to be supporting another of Grassroot Soccer’s flagship programmes located in Lusaka, Zambia as part of its strategy to use football to increase young people’s uptake of HIV testing, and to enable those newly diagnosed to access treatment and care.

HIV prevalence among young people between 15 and 19 years of age is almost 5 per cent in Zambia and it is estimated that only 28 per cent of this age group know their HIV status (UNAIDS estimates the total number living with HIV in all age groups to be between 1,100,000 and 1,200,000). The Zambian government has cited the need for a widespread campaign on the benefits of knowing your status and called for help from non-governmental organisations to increase the demand for, and provision of, HIV testing. This is exactly what GRS hopes to achieve through its football-based programmes.

Grassroot Soccer helps train African soccer stars, coaches, teachers and peer educators to deliver an interactive HIV prevention and life-skills curriculum to youth. They have innovatively utilised Zambian children’s enthusiasm for football to improve access for this vulnerable group to HIV treatment and care. Interventions are delivered by GRS local coaches through the GRS core ‘Skillz’ curriculum, which involves eight 45-minute basic life-skills training sessions. The coaches are young (between 18 - 25 years of age), a large proportion are female, many are living with HIV and some are graduates themselves of the ‘Skillz’ training, enabling a positive and trusting mentor-pupil relationship to be developed between the coaches and participants.

A recently approved grant of more than £1m over 3 years from the Elton John AIDS Foundation will enable Grassroot Soccer to bridge the current gap between HIV prevention, testing and treatment through football. It will also make it possible for GRS to scale up their testing programme in Zambia and establish an effective psychological support and follow up system so that all HIV positive youth on the programme have immediate access to HIV care and treatment.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation is one of the foremost independent AIDS charities in the world. It supports prevention and care services in 15 countries globally and has reached 150 million people in its 17 year history. Addressing the spread of HIV in teenagers and young adults is just one of the Foundation’s global priorities, which also include treated HIV-infected infants, preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, support services for children orphaned by the disease and information, care and support for vulnerable groups such as men who have sex with men. Its offices in London run at under 5 per cent overheads.