The pomp during a launch of elite TNM Super League in Malawi.There is need for action as many Malawi football players do not go for HIV testing although many of them live a reckless life. Some are calling for policy review.
Much as AIDS is a global pandemic, some nations have made strides to make sure they have players that are fit for the game. Players that are HIV negative. They conduct tests on their players before they are signed to their teams. They follow trends in the health of their players to keep them in form. It seems to be different with countries such as Malawi.
Former Big Bullets striker, now Assistant Coach for the team Heston Munthali remembers his time as a player, when he travelled to Mauritius with an HIV positive teammate who was then sent back after the club there found out that his friend cheated to have negative results in Malawi.
“I tell you; many players live a reckless life and until today, we have many players that are HIV positive. The only problem is that we do not know since there are no medical tests conducted in those issues.
“In my time with my friend, the club we were going to demanded results on almost everything including HIV and my friend managed to cheat here in Malawi. But it was discovered when we got to Mauritius that he was positive and he was sent back”. Munthali explained.
Nyasa Big Bullets midfielder Fischer Kondowe says “if you are a celebrity, you meet different temptations. Women are easy to get in those situations.
“Getting tested for HIV can be very difficult for us. If you say players should get tested, we are going to run away because we know how we live. There is fear that ‘if am found HIV positive, how am I going to live my life?” He said.
Kondowe, who remembers to have gone for HIV testing twice including the time he was going for trials in South Africa, says there are many players who are HIV positive and this is not just in Malawi, but all over the world.
“The issue is even in other major leagues across, they do not conduct HIV tests when wanting to sign players in their clubs. They just check player’s ability to play in terms of if he has injuries and things like those. Not HIV.” Kondowe added.
Alfred Manyozo Junior, captain for Mighty Wanderers, though acknowledging that football players are at risk of HIV/AIDS, he says it is the same as in any profession where one deals with many people.
“It is just a matter of responsibility. It is about taking care of yourself. There are many ways you can be safe.
“I have gone for HIV test 3 times, the last time being 6 months ago. I would say AIDS is real. If you cannot abstain, just always try to protect yourself.” The midfielder said.
Nyasa Big Bullets Team Doctor Felix Mwalule says players are very exposed to HIV following what fame does to a person.
“Fame can kill and the same can also make you very rich. So, if you associate Africa with fame, most of our players are involved in malpractices such as drinking beer, smoking and even sometimes womanizing. So, if they have multiple sexual partners and they also do not get tested for HIV, they are at risk.” Mwalule said.
But the Doctor sees something better in the status of players today because of the campaign where mothers get tested when they are pregnant. He says this is an advantage since those married players still know their HIV status through tests that are conducted to their wife when they are expecting.
“The best practice I can recommend to footballers is to be faithful to their partners whether they are married or not. They should also get tested at least every 3 months.
“In addition, as players, they should be aware that football is not just for entertainment, but their source of income so they will learn to be responsible. It is unlike in the past where when a player was famous, he would have many women around him.” He said.
Mwalule also called on organizations that are fighting against the spread of HIV to come in football and influence players to be advocates for change in HIV/AIDS.
“They (players) can also be putting on T-shirts that may be preaching to the world about fighting and dealing with HIV/AIDS. On top of this, it is not a crime to have HIV and play football.” He said.
Football Players Association (Malawi)-FPA Chairperson Ernest Mangani agrees that players in Malawi are standing on high risk of HIV/AIDS due to their living standards.
“Celebrities are very exposed to advances from women. You know these players receive some money and most of them it is the first time they have such amounts of money. So, because of that, they may be excited and indulge into behaviors that can expose them to contraction of HIV.” He said.
But Mangani was quick to mention that they are putting in measures to contain the situation, saying “we have got mentorship programs and workshops we are planning to have for our members so that they are aware of the risks associated with them being celebrities. Also, the exposure and challenges they would face in trying to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.”
Former Malawi National Football Team-Flames Defender and Captain James Sangala, now Youth Football Development Officer for Football Association of Malawi-FAM and Flames Team Manager, said in his assessment, many football players live a reckless life that makes them attractive to HIV/AIDS, including sleeping with prostitutes when they go out.
“I have stayed in football for quite a long time and I am still there. I have seen a number of things regarding the lifestyles of football players. I think the main problem is the lifestyle football players live.
“Being celebrities, everybody knows players as people who are well known, and there are also women at the same time who admire players. So, it becomes easy for football players to get girlfriends, so much so that most football players are found to have more than one sexual partner. This is a very big risk when you talk about HIV/AIDS.” Sangala said.
In the understanding that in Malawi, no medical tests that include HIV tests are conducted, Sangala says it leaves players in a dangerous state.
“I cannot rule out the fact that we have football players that are playing in Malawi while living with HIV. It brings with it, negative implications. For example, if someone is positive and nobody knows, he may transmit it in cases of injuries where there are cuts. It is a matter of policy. Authorities must come up with guidelines on these matters” He said.
Sports analyst Higger Mkandawire says; “players have knowledge of HIV/AIDs either directly or indirectly because it is a pandemic and it is increasingly a public health problem worldwide.
“Players are also advised to have sexual abstinence so that they can continue with their career. So, players must abstain from taking unhealthy sex or they should always ‘condomise’.” Higger said.
Another analyst but former Wanderers player Ojukwu Malunga says many players are ‘loose’ in their lifestyle; saying, “instead of just choosing one, they love to change women. At the end, they risk their life.
“I call on players to learn to abstain or if it fails, use condoms. This helps you to live a good life. I would even encourage the players to just focus on other safe behaviors such as watching sporting activities, reading books and improving their spiritual life. This way, they will save their life from a lot of problems.” Malunga said.
Responding on the side of club managers, Chairperson for Mighty Wanderers Football Team Gift Mkandawire said the issue at hand should be taken as a serious matter for players.
“Whether big named or minor, a player is a celebrity hence highly exposed. Worse still, majority of players have not gone far with school hence fame is something they can hardly handle as it requires very high-level of discipline associated with education.
“It is not uncommon to hear players exposed to alcohol and drug abuse. Wherever a good player goes, girls will certainly throw themselves at them and even worse if found in drinking places, players will rarely buy a bottle. Supporters will always throw around to them and they get any girl.” Mkandawire said.
He then called on teams to deliberately put in place counseling programs to sensitize players. “A player is like a school boy, he needs enough care.” Mkandawire concluded.
The same is for Flames coach Meck Mwase who says prevention is very important for everyone.
“I have lost a lot of mates while a football player and when I became coach. HIV/AIDS has cost a lot of footballers.” Mwase said.
So, it is. A matter of how to move from here. But HIV, a virus that cause AIDS, remains a big challenge in Malawi football greatly after understanding that many football players live a reckless lifestyle but many of them do not go for testing.
Some like James Sangala are calling for policies to be put in place that will offer guidance on how to deal with HIV/AIDS matters in football, while some such as Felix Mwalule believe it is better to just accept and move on, because it is also not a crime to be HIV positive and play football.
All in all, what it takes must be done to stop the spread of HIV and create a safe environment for all people. The health of the players and everyone is important just as the goals players score that make many people happy.