Cricket is the national sport in Pakistan as it is in India, but what makes the First Positive Cricket Team stand out from all the other Karachi-based clubs is that its members are all HIV positive.
The team was put together a year ago by the Pakistan Society, an NGO working for the rights of people living with HIV. They played — and won — their first match in August, and haven’t looked back.
Dr. Saleem Azam, president of the Pakistan Society, told CNN, “Every time they play the players have a boost physically, emotionally and psychologically, and they feel a lot better.”
Azam says that there is a considerable stigma in Pakistan surrounding HIV/AIDS and he hopes the team can help combat discrimination towards HIV sufferers.
“People assume the team must be very sick-looking, like walking skeletons, but when they see them playing and winning matches they have to think again,” said Azam.
“We’ve given them a very strong message that having HIV does not mean you must retire from life and become helpless. You can have HIV and live a very happy life if you take your antiretroviral treatment regularly.
When the team won handsomely, leaving their opponents and the fans amazed that HIV-positive players could be so active – one of the team members was asked whether antiretroviral medication was also a form of performance-enhancing drugs.
“The stigma is the worst consequence of this illness, so it will be the greatest service to people with HIV if we are able to help them overcome this stigma. The change is coming, but it’s very, very slow.”
While changing attitudes takes time, Azam says the team has already built bridges between the players and their estranged families. He told CNN that some players who had been ostracized by their families were now back in contact with them, with one family requesting to travel to matches with the team.
First Positive has already played a match in Hyderabad, about 200 km (125 miles) from Karachi, and next month they will take to the road for two more matches, which will see them spread their message elsewhere in the country.
“This is how the team will be known the country over,” said Azam.
“People will come to know more and more about the team, and I hope eventually they will be successful in combating this stigma and discrimination.”
Abdul Lateef is captain of the FPCT. He contracted HIV six years ago and told CNN that the team is helping to change others’ attitudes towards people with HIV.
“We are reaching the minds of the people,” he said.
“Everybody thinks there are things that HIV positive people cannot do. We have shown we can play and we have proved to everybody we can do anything they can do.”
We are thankful that the authorities were so cooperative with us, and provided us with the space that was needed for the match without any discriminatory attitude. Rather, their attitude was positive and encouraging,” said Azhar Hussain Magsi, a manager at the Pakistan Society.
“More matches are scheduled to take place all over Pakistan in the coming weeks … We are also having talks with other NGOs in India, and look forward to having an international HIV-positive cricket match.
Having personally witnessed the wonders that anti retro viral therapy can produce in many patients, I cannot think a better way of illustrating the fact that HIV/AIDS is treatable and HIV positive patients are as human as we all are than the site of a ‘Positive’ cricket team winning a match against the ‘negative’ team on the cricket field.
.An India-Pakistan cricket match between HIV positive players!!!
That will be a great event.