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Sri Lanka

South Asian cricketers bowl UNICEF's 'healthy hat trick' for children

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Lftikhar
Young South Asian cricketers exchange high-fives with clean hands, as handwashing and sanitation take high priority in a joint effort by UNICEF and the Asian Cricket Council.

By Sarah Crowe

DAMBULLA, Sri Lanka, 24 June, 2010 – Besides batting overs, taking runs and losing innings, South Asia’s top cricketers were bowling a hat trick of another kind during the Asia Cup  – which wrapped up here today as India prevailed over Sri Lanka in the final match.

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Earlier in the tournament, the four skippers of four of the biggest cricket-playing nations in the world – Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan – took their eye off the ball briefly to speak from their heart about children.

At a joint press conference held by the Asian Cricket Council and UNICEF, the message to governments and communities was clear: Invest in good nutrition, sanitation and girls’ education – three critical interventions to save children’s lives. 

“We don't just care about cricket,” said Mr. Sangakkara. “We are fathers, we are husbands, we are brothers and we care about our communities. They are our families, our fans and they are our people. If we really care about our fans, we have to know what’s going on in these communities. And good nutrition and sanitation and girls’ education are for us the ultimate hat trick.”

Lending their voices

The shocking fact that more than 65 per cent of the population of South Asia lacks access to improved sanitation, and that 48 per cent of children suffer from stunting – a symptom of chronic malnutrition, which contributes to almost 3 million child deaths annually – has moved the cricketers to lend their voices to amplifying these issues.

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Lftikhar
Cricketers at play in Bangladesh, one of the four South Asian countries whose team captains teamed up with UNICEF to raise awareness of critical children's issues.

Cricket for South Asians is like a religion, and cricketers are like gods.

“By harnessing the magic and power of cricketers to talk out on these issues and promote very simple measures – like hand washing with soap, access and use of toilets, immediate and exclusive breastfeeding and educating girls – we can help save these children’s lives,” said UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Philippe Duamelle.

‘A social vaccine’

“Bangladesh has come a long way since the mid-1970s, when we had one of the highest child mortality rates in the world,” said Mr. al Hasan. “Today this is not so much the case, but small things like handwashing with soap and making sure a new mother is allowed to breastfeed immediately after giving birth, and exclusively for six months – these things will help our children.“

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Lftikhar
The need for improved child nutrition, sanitation and girls’ education has moved leading South Asian cricketers to lend their voices to amplifying these issues.

Mr. Afridi added: “For us in Pakistan, the most important thing now is to educate our girls, because this affects everything. Like India, we have a big issue with sanitation, and we still have polio…. When a girl goes to school and stays in school ‘til her twelfth year, then she is going to have healthy, educated children, and she will make sure her children get vaccinated. So education is like a social vaccine."

Mr. Dhoni addressed the situation in his home country. “I am shocked when I hear that in India, there will soon be more mobile phones than toilets,” he said. “We cannot expect our children to avoid diseases like polio and other things if they are being brought up in unhygienic conditions. India has a real responsibility to the world to eradicate polio. So we have to make sure our children are immunized. Vaccines, together good sanitation, can eradicate this crippling disease. We can and must do this.”

Journalists take note

In light of a flurry of activity between UNICEF and cricketers – such as encouraging cricket among former child combatants and fielding links between cricketers and Bollywood celebrities at the Indian International Film Academy’s recent Celebrity Cricket Match – sports journalists are sitting up and taking note of children’s issues.

“In any world-class cricket match, a hat trick is that rare formula we all aim for,” said Syed Ashraful Huq, Chief Executive of the Asian Cricket Council. “Investing in a healthy hat trick will make this a world-class region.”




23 June 2010: UNICEF's Sarah Crowe reports on an effort by UNICEF and South Asia’s top cricketers to promote a 'healthy hat trick' for children.
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