The FIFA World Cup and Human Trafficking in Russia

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The FIFA World Cup and Human Trafficking in Russia

The World Cup 2018 brought men and women from across the world as spectators and with it, a sharp rise in the demand for sex.

Although the tourism from a major sporting event can serve as a massive source of income for the host nation, Russia may have ignored the dark side of this influx.

While Brazil, Germany, and South Africa held targeted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns to ensure the local and foreign spectators were aware of the element of human trafficking, Russia did not roll out a campaign or make efforts to curb trafficking.

One example of an anti-trafficking campaign organised by Roman Catholic nuns and backed by Pope Francis was the “Play in Favor of Life – Denounce Human Trafficking” campaign to spread awareness on forced prostitution and sex tourism during the FIFA World Cup 2014. The motivation? Previously, statistics showed that sexual exploitation rose 30 percent in connection with the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and 40 percent at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, as reported in a news article by Reuters.

Another popular campaign was the ‘’Red Card’’ campaign that featured a card with the message ‘’Fair Play: Say No to sex Tourism’’ and was distributed among tourists at the entrance of stadiums and publicised through media. It raised world-wide awareness about the dangers of sex tourism, exploitation of vulnerable children during sporting events and set the stage for bigger awareness-raising campaigns that were organized during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In the run-up to WC 2010 that took place in South Africa, the police intensified their investigations into human trafficking syndicates and the South African government in collaboration with UNICEF strengthened child protection systems at the FIFA Fan Fests. The key actions included 39,094 one-on-one awareness-raising sessions, tagging of children and parents with twin wristbands and organizing fun activities to help children identify danger signals and protect themselves. During the tournament 161 children were reunited with their families, 3778 received services and 28,907 children were tagged to make their reunification simpler.

‘’Amidst all these festivities there were far fewer incidents affecting children than had been anticipated,” said Malathi Pillai, Deputy Representative of UNICEF.

Prior to the 2006 WC, the German government and police forces, along with NGOs stepped up their efforts through public events, press conferences, information desks, telephone hotlines, provision of shelters and strict control of federal borders. These steps not only helped reduce trafficking for sexual exploitation, but also placed the issue in the long-term social and political vision of their country.

Major sports events like Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup and the U.S. Super Bowl act like hubs for human traffickers who take advantage of the heightened demand in sexual services. A paper in Public Health Journal mentions a 13.6% increase in the number of online advertisements for female escort services when Super Bowl was hosted in Dallas, Texas in 2010.

Happy Child International, a UK based charity working in Brazil during the FIFA World Cup 2014 reported the trafficking of children as young as 11 or 12 in “preparation” for the tournament. Also, the reporting of crimes against children through the toll-free helplines rose during this time.

Considering the gravity of the problem, it should be a priority to launch aggressive anti-trafficking campaigns ahead of sporting events.

In the case of Russia, the reduced visa requirements worked well for traffickers as it made transporting victims from ‘source countries’ easier. Recently, 10 Nigerian children (9 girls and 1 boy) with FIFA fan passes for the World Cup 2018 were intercepted and rescued by officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons or NAPTIP at Lagos’ main airport.

While it surreal to expect that campaigns can totally eradicate trafficking for sexual exploitation that goes on around sporting events, these efforts go a long way in drawing global attention to this serious problem, and that is an important goal achieved. Hence, it was vital that outreach campaigns continued during World Cup 2018.