Maasai cricketers and England's top bowler unite against HIV, FGM

LONDON: When playing cricket, as when practising safe sex, it is best to wear protection, be faithful to one's partner, and duck away from anything that seems a bit risky, says Sonyanga Ole Ngais, captain of the Maasai Cricket Warriors, a Kenyan side.

His team star in Warriors, a documentary film which combines a feel-good sporting tale with an investigation of some of the social issues which affect their community in Il Polei near Mount Kenya, such as HIV and female genital mutilation (FGM).

A group of young Maasai men are taught to play cricket, wearing white leg pads and gloves as well as traditional Maasai dress, their red shawls and bright jewels fluttering as they learn to bowl, bat and catch against stunning landscapes.

The hero status brought by their sporting jaunts gives the young men increased influence among their elders, so the cricketers explain to them how to minimise the risk of HIV and why they should not have their daughters circumcised.

"There was a lot of resistance," said Ole Ngais at the film's premiere on Monday. FGM, the removal of the external genitalia, is rooted in Maasai culture despite the fact it can cause serious health problems and is illegal in Kenya, he said.

"FGM is not actually good, it has got a lot of side effects and doesn't have any positive effects," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The main thing is for every individual player to go to his family and tell them."

James Anderson, the England fast bowler and the film's executive producer, attended the premiere in London although it fell between the first two matches of this summer's five-game home Ashes series against Australia.

"I thought it was a really powerful message," said Anderson, who became his country's all-time leading test wicket taker in May. "With the cricket connection I thought it was a no brainer for me to get involved."

England won the first match of the series convincingly in Cardiff last week, and start the second on Thursday at the "home of cricket," Lord's cricket ground in London. In the film, the Maasai team travel to Lord's to play against amateur teams from around the world.

Director Barney Douglas came up with the idea on seeing a photo of a Maasai man playing cricket and realising how great it would look cinematically. The HIV and FGM angles arose only after he met Maasai men and women while filming in Kenya.

"It certainly shocked me, and I think this film is a way of introducing this topic to other people," he said.