Matthew Hall was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1996 when he was 23-years old. Thankfully, anti-HIV medications were just beginning to be prescribed to people living with the virus at the time, and according to him, he was undetectable within three months, which meant he was unable to transmit the virus to HIV-negative people.
“Because I had virtually zero risk of infecting another person my doctors pushed me to go back [on the field],” he said to the Daily Mail. “Before that I was always concerned it might be unsafe for me to play football again.”
After his doctors said it was OK, Hall then told his teammates of his diagnosis. The reactions were mixed. As he recalled, “some [players] didn’t want to share my water bottle or even shake my hand.”
And what’s worse, as Hall said to the Daily Mail, the football association refused to register him at the last minute. The insurance company also deemed him a “risk to the health and safety of other participants” and refused to cover him.
"I went on a path of self destruction there for a while, excessive drinking and partying - well, if you're going to be dead in a few years you sort of live a life of no responsibility I guess," he said to the Brisbane Times. "There's still a percentage of people out there that think it's a death sentence, where in reality I haven't had any illness related since starting my medication."
While he contemplated quitting the sport altogether, his doctors told him he had a “moral obligation” to fight for his right to play. What happened next was a long court battle.
Once the media found out an HIV-positive soccer player was trying to get into Melbourne’s football league, the case received a huge mount of attention, and in 1999 the court determined that Hall presented no risk to others and should be allowed to play, seeing as his doctors said the risk of transmitting HIV to another player was hardly one in 100 million, according to the Daily Mail.
Hall also came out as gay in 2002 on the cover of Blue magazine, in a nude four-spread page. “Coming out in such a public way in 2002 wasn't cool or trendy as it seems to be now. It was something people had never done before,” he recalled.
Now, Hall is fighting back HIV stigma by walking the historic Kokoda Track in Papua New Ginea from June 12 to June 22 with 22 other people living with HIV.
Together, they hope to prove that people living with the virus are as healthy as anyone else. As he said to the Brisbane Times, "If we can allow people that moment to believe in themselves - if I can do Kokoda and live with HIV, you can do anything."