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United against AIDS at the opening of the ICC Cricket World Cup in Jamaica

© AP Photo/Sharma
Fireworks burst over Trelawny Stadium during the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in Jamaica on 11 March.

By David Singh

KINGSTON, Jamaica, 12 March 2007 – The worldwide audience that watched the opening ceremony of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup 2007 on Sunday witnessed a defining moment in sport.

As the tournament kicked off at Jamaica’s Trelawny Stadium, 16 of the world’s top cricket teams marched onto the field to give viewers a glimpse of the players who will do battle over the next seven weeks. But as the players strode out, with a young child walking side-by-side with each captain, they were also showing the world a commitment to an even bigger battle – the fight against HIV/AIDS – that will continue long after the Cricket World Cup is over.

What is at stake is much greater than the tournament. With the AIDS pandemic affecting more and more children, young people and their mothers, the players at the opening ceremony took a stand and publicly broke down barriers of stigma and discrimination.

As spectators watched, the sport stars linked hands with children wearing yellow t-shirts that bore the name of the global campaign, Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS.

‘I almost cried’

A year and a half after launching of the AIDS campaign, UNICEF and UNAIDS have found powerful partners in the ICC and the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS. The hope is that such partnerships will help address the needs of 2.3 million children under the age of 15 who are living with HIV.

© Reuters/Abidi
Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting waves while being escorted by a girl wearing an AIDS campaign t-shirt during the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007.

Unlike cricket averages, the statistics in this case speak of no past glory. They tell a tale of 10 million young people aged 15-24 living with HIV who now constitute 40 per cent of all new infections. They also speak of 15.2 million children under 18 who have been orphaned by AIDS.

“When I saw those little children marching out looking so tiny next to those huge cricketers, I almost cried,” said one Canadian spectator on Sunday, her eyes welling up as she described West Indian sportsman Brian Lara holding a little girl’s hand and talking to her all the way through the opening ceremony.

Childhood lost to AIDS

Throughout the ceremony – which included performances from Jimmy Cliff, Sean Paul and Bob Marley’s I-Threes – two huge blue-and-red ribbons symbolizing the AIDS campaign stood imposingly at each side of the stage. The ribbons were a constant reminder for everyone in attendance of the struggle that will go on after the winners take their cup home.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson welcomed visitors to her “beautiful island” as the Ashe Ensemble moved the crowd with a song, written for UNICEF, that called upon all to “unite for children, unite against AIDS.”

And as the chorus echoed around the stadium with the turquoise blue Caribbean sea as a backdrop, many were reminded of another paradise: the one lost by so many children and youth in the age of AIDS.



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