By Paul Eddison, Sportsbeat
Gareth Thomas is willing to embrace his vulnerable side as he takes his Tackle HIV campaign across borders for the first time.
The legendary Wales and British & Irish Lions captain is over in France for the 2023 Rugby World Cup on the Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour as he looks to raise HIV awareness and understanding.
It is the first time that the tour has ventured outside the UK and it is fitting that it is in France, where Thomas spent four years playing for Toulouse and is a familiar face.
Even with his experience in the country, it is a step into the unknown and one which Thomas is excited about.
“It’s exciting but I’m also anxious about taking the bus and this Tackle HIV campaign across the border,” said Thomas, who will tour World Cup host cities providing an opportunity to engage with rugby fans in the official rugby villages, highlighting the importance of testing, and providing a visual and inspirational rally point to address HIV education & stigma.
“It’s very much the first time we’ve ventured outside the UK and this is a global sporting event. The Rugby World Cup is the third largest sporting event on this planet so it’s good to have an understanding of the amount of people who we are going to engage with and to have an understanding of the education people will gain. Anything worth doing is only worth doing if you have a bit of fear. Within those numbers of people we will speak to, there is a sense of fear and vulnerability.”
Thomas is working in France to increase awareness around HIV, most notably reinforcing that HIV can affect anyone. Globally over half of all people living with HIV are female and in 2020 in England more heterosexual people were diagnosed with HIV than gay and bisexual men.
He is keen to reiterate that the only way to know your status is to test, while also pointing out that on effective medication, someone living with HIV cannot pass it on through sexual contact.
The Tackle HIV campaign has received the official support of the Rugby World Cup, allowing the bus to enter official fan zones in host cities.
And Thomas is grateful for their support on his mission.
He added: “These platforms, the biggest global sporting events, everyone wants to be a part of it. For World Rugby to give us this platform, for them to give us this open entry is a great example of the world of rugby’s commitment to inclusivity.
“It’s a great example to everybody who is a fan of rugby, who plays rugby, of World Rugby’s commitment to making it a game for all and a really inclusive environment where everybody feels they can be authentic and welcomed for being authentic.”
The Tackle HIV bus leaves the City of Lights tomorrow and our hearts are full of hope that we’ll win the fight against HIV 💙 ✨#RWC2023 @ViiVHC @WorldRugby @France2023 @gareththomas14 pic.twitter.com/M4jf30Dmm0
— Tackle HIV (@TackleHIV) September 10, 2023
Those views were echoed by Alan Gilpin, the CEO of World Rugby, who showed his support for the cause by joining Thomas to publicise the Myth Bus Tour on the day of the opening game of the World Cup.
He said: “As a sport, rugby’s values are really important to us and those values include inclusivity. We have an opportunity with a major global event to create a platform for us and the people around our sport. There are some great ambassadors for our sport and there are few greater ambassadors than Gareth Thomas, who has played the sport at the highest level. We need to create a platform for Gareth and others to talk about the issues that really matter.”
The Tackle HIV campaign is run in association with ViiV Healthcare, who specialise in the research and development of medicines to treat and prevent HIV and whose mission is to leave no person living with HIV behind.
Jean-Bernard Simeon, their Senior Vice President and Head of Europe, explained just how excited the company were to work alongside Thomas.
He added: “It’s a wonderful opportunity for ViiV to be associated with the work that Gareth is doing with Tackle HIV.
“We think we can address one of the key challenges which we are going to be facing for the next decade as we look to end this pandemic which is to reduce the stigma associated with HIV.”
Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv