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Competitors and Condoms: The International Olympic Committee on HIV/AIDS

By Sunny Bjerk

August 2, 2012

Competitors and Condoms: The International Olympic Committee on HIV/AIDS

Now that the International AIDS Conference is over and the 2012 Olympics in London are nearly a third of the way in, I thought it might be interesting to think about the global stage these athletes perform on and how sex plays a part in these world games.

During the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, 70,000 condoms were distributed to the athletes, coaches, trainers, and officials staying in the Olympic Village, a very proactive and somewhat surprising move (at least to me) by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to promote sexual health during the games. But even more surprising was the fact that they found they needed even more and ordered an additional 20,000 condoms that year, roughly equating to 8 condoms per person and a figure that would remain static for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and the 2004 Summer games in Athens, Greece.

But with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the number of athletes competing grew, lowering the ratio of condoms to roughly six per athlete, making the 100,000 distribution seem somewhat paltry. For this year's games in London, however, the IOC decided to supply at least 150,000 condoms giving each athlete approximately 15 condoms to use at his or her will. What's more, Durex, this year's supplier, is standing by should the IOC request more.

And this, it seems, is a very apt number, given ESPN Magazine's recent story on the levels of raucous sex and partying that happens in the Olympic Village. But that's not all. In partnership with UNAIDS, the IOC has also developed an HIV/AIDS toolkit to be handed out to the athletes and the coaches at each Olympics, discussing the basics of HIV/AIDS as well as some HIV "insider baseball," (as my boss would say), detailing the effect of exercise on HIV, ways that HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted -- a section that at least 33 states should be reading right now -- misconceptions about HIV/AIDS in sports, and how athletes can serve as role models.

"One of the most successful strategies in de-stigmatizing HIV and AIDS is someone saying, 'I am HIV-positive.' Involving HIV- positive sportsmen and women has already proven itself as being extremely valuable in normalizing HIV and being a role model for sportspeople, both young and old. Athletes whether HIV-positive or HIV-negative, who take part in HIV awareness raising, are serving their communities and are a living example of the spirit of voluntarism by lending their name to the AIDS response."

What impresses me most about the IOC and its response to HIV/AIDS is that it's not a linear, "everybody carry condoms" strategy. Rather, it's a broad, intelligent, and open approach to the global affects and reach of HIV/AIDS, which uses its toolkit, as well as hundreds of on-hand doctors and nurses, to facilitate an open dialogue about HIV/AIDS amidst the world's best athletes, a population that many may perceive as impermeable to the disease.

To my knowledge, and as far as my research took me, there is no openly HIV-positive athlete competing in this year's games in London. But that's not really the point, because HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination doesn't affect just those who are living with the disease, as hateful homophobia doesn't just affect or hurt those who identify as gay or lesbian. The IOC is providing the global community a real chance to push back against HIV stigma and discrimination, an impressive move given the fact that the whole world is watching.




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