UNAIDS staff member Eric Sawyer carried the Olympic Flame in Calgary, Canada on 20 January as part of the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay leading up to the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, to be held from 12-28 February. Prior to working for UNAIDS he founded three HIV organizations in the US, including ACT UP/New York — an international advocacy group working to defend the rights of people living with HIV. He has been living with HIV for the past 30 years.
Speaking about being chosen as an Olympic torchbearer, Mr Sawyer said, “I am a long term survivor of HIV and have been fortunate to have been able to buy almost 30 years of life after becoming symptomatic with HIV in 1981, because I have had access to the latest medical treatment and care. The fact that I am still able to run a segment of the relay is a clear example of the need to provide everyone living with HIV with the information, treatment, care and support.”
Mr Sawyer is also member of UN Plus, the UN system-wide advocacy group of staff living with HIV.
UNAIDS and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a long-standing partnership to enhance the role of sports organisations in the AIDS response. This joint venture was formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2004. The two organizations have also collaborated in efforts to raise HIV awareness with coaches, athletes and sports personalities around the world.
Praising the work of the IOC, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé stressed the importance of partnerships like this one for the AIDS response, saying “By working together in the spirit of the core values of the Olympic Movement—friendship, excellence and respect—we can be a force for positive change.”
Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC, said, “The IOC and UNAIDS both try to reach out to as many young people as possible. It is our common goal to use sport as a powerful tool in the education about and the prevention of HIV and AIDS across the globe.”
For the Vancouver Games, UNAIDS has helped develop HIV education, prevention and awareness packages that will be distributed to volunteers, workers and athletes alike. In addition to literature that educates individuals about the risks of HIV transmission, the packages contain both male and female condoms as well as information on safer sex.
“As a person living with HIV, I am glad to see that the prevention packets are being distributed to all involved in the Olympic Games experience. Just as a downhill ski coach provides his athletes with information, training, goggles and a helmet to safely ski down a slalom run, information and commodities must be provided to everyone so that when they engage in sexual relations they are protected from sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.”
The IOC has asked UNAIDS to nominate people living with HIV as bearers of the Olympic flame in the relay to help break down the barriers of stigma and discrimination.
Dhamiri Mustapha, a young Tanzanian woman living with HIV, was one of the 80 dignitaries who carried the Olympic Flame in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. In the run up to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, UNAIDS nominated 31-year-old South African Musa Njoko to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay in Cape Town.
The partnership between UNAIDS and the IOC was particularly successful during the recent 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. The “Play Safe – Help Stop HIV – Play your part in protecting the world around you” campaign for the Beijing Games was jointly planned and executed by the IOC, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad and UNAIDS. UNAIDS mobilized nine UN agencies, the Red Cross, Marie Stopes International as well as groups of people living with HIV to train 7,000 Olympic volunteers on HIV prevention and countering stigma and discrimination. Quelle