How strange it would be if the players in a World Cup winning side were to meet just five days before the deciding match for the very first time to train together and then take the title with a convincing victory…
Taking the HALFTIME! title: Munyaradzi Dodho, coach of Zimbabwe’s Opportunistic Infection Bombers (OI Bombers) celebrates his side’s victory in the final match of the HALFTIME! tournament. The team was the top scoring side in the tournament, with 12 goals out of the total of 34 being off the boots of OI Bombers’ strikers. Photo by: Lisa Skinner
But when Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) promised you an alternate take on football through the HALFTIME! initiative during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, that is perhaps exactly what was to be expected: unexpected success against the odds.
HALFTIME! brought together six teams of people living with HIV from across Southern Africa to compete in a 5-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, while similar football matches and events took place around the world. We did this to raise the alarm about waning funding for life-saving antiretroviral treatment needlessly risking millions of lives when international donors back out of financial commitments.
Unlike the other teams in the HALFTIME! tournament the OI Bombers (Opportunistic Infection* Bombers), only met for the first time as a full team in Harare, Zimbabwe just days before their departure to Johannesburg and entered the tournament as underdogs.
Not only did the Bombers have to overcome the fact that they come from two different towns more than 500km apart, where MSF operates HIV/AIDS treatment projects in Tsholotsho and Murambinda, but they were also divided by language. Three of the members are Shona speakers, while the other three speak Ndebele. But despite this the team quickly banded together, finding a common goal in their quest to remind the world the HIV crisis is not over and that international donors should stay in the HIV/AIDS funding match.
“Many people have been asking me about how I feel about coaching this team and whether we are going to win any games. But we are taking this game seriously. For us it will be an opportunity to raise the flag high by winning. Winning is anything that comes from doing our best and we will do our very best,” coach Munyaradzi Dodho told us.
On the eve of the tournament they told the other teams: “We are going to bomb you on the field like ARVs bomb opportunistic infections like TB.”
And on Friday 2 July when they took to the field against the other five teams from South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe they proved their mettle and did just that.
South Africa’s Siyaphila team goalkeeper Nandipha Makhele tries her best to stop a shot at goal by Janet Mpalume, star striker of Zimbabwe’s ARV Swallows during the HALFTIME! 5-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by: Lisa Skinner
First they trounced Mozambique’s Mambinhas 2 – 0. In their next game they blasted their way to a massive victory 8 – 0 victory over South Africa’s Siyaphila when they unleashed their full arsenal, just as they had promised.
The Bombers went from zeroes to heroes in an instant, becoming the team to beat and even surpassing the ARV Swallows – fellow Zimbabweans and early favourites to win HALFTIME!. By the time they met South Africa’s rough and ready Fluconazole Pirates in the final the Bombers were a force to be reckoned with.
The final came down to a penalty shoot-out and the Bombers clinched a 2 – 1 victory to take the tournament title and to become the top scoring team with a total of 12 goals – proving to the world and international HIV/AIDS treatment funders that halftime is NO TIME TO QUIT!
MSF staff and people living with HIV participating in the HALFTIME! tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa take to the streets for a celebratory march to conclude the tournament. Photo bu Lisa Skinner
“If the funding ceases, my life will be no more. These international funders should not retreat now. They should continue supporting us. And even African governments should chip in what they have, so those outsiders [international donors] can do more with their efforts to keep on funding,” OI Bombers defender, Cloud Mapiti says.
– Maureen Mazibisa, OI Bombers team leader and Borrie La Grange, Head of Communications MSF South Africa
*[Opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis are the most dangerous enemy people living with HIV/AIDS face and antiretroviral drugs help combat this by improving the ability of the body’s depleted immune system to fight back]
Learn more about HALFTIME! visit: www.msf-halftime.info