While all eyes were on qualification for next year’s World Cup in South Africa, Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs spent the international break in war-torn Sierra Leone.
Giggs, United’s most decorated player, was in the country to raise awareness of the HIV virus as part of his role working as a UNICEF ambassador.
The former Welsh international’s grandparents hail from the African state, which has been devastated by war and poverty, and Giggs admitted that the visit put his footballing exploits into perspective.
“You hear all the time that a footballer is brave for going into a tackle or going up for a header. That’s not bravery,” he said.
“You see what true bravery is. What I’ve seen today – a 21-year-old lad who was telling me that he’s positive for HIV and what he wants to do about it, that he wants to educate other people, that he wants to help stop it happening to other young men and to other young women – that’s bravery.”
In 2008, Giggs joined forces with United team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra to front a UNICEF AIDS awareness campaign in the country, a cause the Welshman is clearly passionate about.
“The highest cases of new HIV are amongst young people," said Giggs.
“Young people watch football, young people support Manchester United, so maybe some of the people who I’ve come across who don’t believe in HIV or don’t want to listen to their teachers – maybe they’ll listen to me because maybe they think that I’m a hero or they’ve seen me on the TV so they’re thinking ‘he must be telling the truth.’
“They’re scared of HIV, scared of what they don’t know, and that’s partly why I’m here to try and educate, to try and raise awareness, but they face many problems believing that HIV doesn’t exist.”comments