World AIDS Day will be observed across the globe today. It is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS/HIV pandemic, which, since its emergence 30 years ago, has killed an estimated 25 million people. Moreover, 33.3 million more are currently living with the disease, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in recorded history.

World AIDS Day was first conceived in 1988 and, thereafter, political leaders and organisations across the world have come to observe it in an effort to raise awareness. FIFA, as the world governing body for the most popular sport on the planet, is no exception, taking the reins in the fight to demonstrate international solidarity in the face of this pandemic.

Between 2011 and 2015, the new theme of World AIDS day is: ‘Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.’ The concept behind the theme is a push toward greater access to treatment for all, and a call for governmental action.

Having a new Football for Hope Centre will definitely allow us to impact on the lives of more youths through quality programmes, providing hope and support to thousands of kids and thus saving lives.

Marcus McGilvray, the CEO and founder of WhizzKids United

Africa has been hit particularly hard by the HIV/AIDS crisis. Through its official 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ campaign, ‘20 Centres for 2010’, and the ‘Football for Hope’ programme, FIFA continuously supports many local initiatives that help tackle the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Marcus McGilvray, the CEO and founder of WhizzKids United, an HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support programme for youths, which uses football as an educational medium to facilitate healthy behaviour chance, said: “Every day in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, we are reminded how great the challenge of HIV and AIDS is to the young people we work with. World AIDS Day is a time for us to reflect and remember the children who have died of AIDS in the past year, and the children who have been infected by HIV.

“Sadly, as much as we try, we can't save the lives all the children we work with. However, moving forward, having a new Football for Hope Centre will definitely allow us to impact on the lives of more youths through quality programmes, providing hope and support to thousands of kids and thus saving lives.”

Lunga Sidzumo, the manager of the Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre, which is run by Grassroot Soccer, an organisation aimed at the education and prevention of HIV/AIDS in Africa, added: “The Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre encourages young people to go and get tested for HIV/AIDS using the Grassroot Soccer metaphor of soccer as the key tool. We have managed to provide health, sport and education services to the youths in our community and surroundings, but we believe this World Aids Day will be of great benefit.”

Another Football for Hope Centre was recently opened in the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho, with the goal of bringing health through education to the local population. “With the opening of the Football for Hope Centre, we have taken yet another step towards fulfilling that promise across the continent: a promise to put football to work for the benefit of education and health. Access to education and health are fundamental rights that are essential to provide the next generation with fair chances for the future,” said FIFA’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Federico Addiechi, who helped break ground on the project alongside local dignitaries and former South Africa footballer-turned-activist, Lucas Radebe.

Daniela Gusman, Lesotho’s director for Kick4Life, a charity which uses football as a tool for promoting health, education and awareness of HIV/AIDS, said: “Lesotho has the third-highest prevalence rate of HIV in the world, and unfortunately we have recently seen the prevalence rates increase. Thanks to the Lesotho Football for Hope Centre, Kick4Life is able to offer HIV testing and counselling on a daily basis, and also distribute condoms. The Centre will also be a permanent base for Kick4Life to deliver its HIV prevention and life skills curriculum on an ongoing basis and through holiday camps.”

“This year, for World AIDS Day, Kick4Life is launching a national media campaign of the Red Card Campaign and will be having a Red Card Parade through the capital Maseru, distributing red cards and encouraging youths to tell others to come to the Centre to collect a red card, so that every Basotho youth is empowered to say no to risky behaviour.”

The Lesotho project is just one of many FIFA-supported programmes in Africa aimed at education through football. Up and down the continent, FIFA has helped spread awareness of the ravages of HIV/AIDS, supporting help groups and local charities that combat one of the great scourges of modern times.