Michael Ballack, star of the German national soccer team and a range of top teams from Kaiserslautern to Chelsea, visited the Health4Men clinic on Friday 18 January, just hours after landing at O R Tambo airport. Riaan Norval reports.
Not being a sport enthusiast, except for watching the men’s diving, swimming and gymnastics events during the Olympic Games, I wasn’t sure what the buzz was about when I heard that an international soccer star planned to visit the Health4Men site at Yeoville clinic, Johannesburg.
Ballack, the former captain of the German national soccer team visited Health4Men on 18 January in his capacity as a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador. This follows a visit by another UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, to a Health4Men clinic during November.
I Googled Ballack and learnt that he is among the top goal scorers in the history of German soccer. He has worn the number 13 shirt for every team he played for except for Kaiserslautern. Soccer legend Pelé (yes, even I recognise this name) nominated Ballack as one of FIFA's 100 greatest living players.
Of course I also looked at his online photos. This hunky man clearly has significant attributes in addition to his sporting skills.
Ballack was taken on a tour of the facility by Health4Men’s programme manager, Glenn de Swardt who also introduced him to staff and to a few patients. Ballack listened attentively to an explanation of why gay and bisexual men require focused competent sexual health services. He was particularly interested in issues related to stigma, prejudice and homophobia in Africa. Among the patients Ballack chatted to a gay refugee from DRC.
Other issues discussed included the need for condom-appropriate lubrication among gay and bisexual men, and the need for specific HIV prevention campaigns targeting such men. He also interacted with USAID representative Dr. Thapelo Maotoe and Anova Health Institute’s Professor James McIntyre.
During his visit Michael Ballack look relaxed in spite of being tired after his long flight. He willingly posed for endless photographs, signed a soccer ball and a vest and answered several questions. He commented on how impressed he was by the service, describing Health4Men as “progressive”, and expressed the hope that facilities would soon exist throughout Africa. His role as a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador allows him to raise awareness on various HIV issues internationally.
Reflecting on the visit I am struck at how relaxed and affable Michael Ballack was throughout his visit. He appeared totally unaware of his mesmerising good looks (much better in person than in photographs) and displayed a real interest in the issues discussed. Through this single visit Michael Ballack has already done more to raise awareness around several key issues than our own Bafana-Bafana stars have done to date.