Trafficked women freed in the UK – but what about the World Cup?

// 10 May 2006

Good news comes this morning that 19 trafficked women have been rescued by police from brothels across London and the West Midlands. Under the banner of the UK-wide Operation Pentameter, police have arrested two individuals believed to have been the ringleaders of the network. A police spokesman heading the operation said “To the men who use brothels my message is ‘stop it’. You are fuelling this trade”.

Unfortunately this news comes at a time of increasing concern about the potential rise in sex trafficking to Germany during the World Cup next month. Amnesty International and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) are both running campaigns to highlight the problem and calling on international governments and football associations to oppose the link between football and the sex trade.

Germany legalised prostitution and pimping in 2002, however it is expected that the existing red light districts will be unable to cope with the huge influx in demand prompted by the World Cup, despite a newly opened ‘mega-brothel’ being opened next door to the main stadium venue, comprising 650 wooden huts like toilet stalls – ‘performance cubicles’ – over an area the size of a football pitch.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have estimated that between 30,000 and 60,000 women and girls may be the object of trafficking for World Cup. PACE, backed by Amnesty, the Nordic Council and the CATW are calling upon FIFA to “assume its responsibility to condemn the exploitation of women, which sometimes, highly regrettably, accompanies the holding of sports events, and therefore to denounce any activities that threaten human rights”.

So far almost 47,000 people have signed an online petition calling on FIFA to repudiate trafficking and the countries involved to take stronger action to prevent sex trafficking related to the World Cup.

FIFA’s response? A perfunctory press release, headed “FIFA has no power to take legal action against human trafficking and forced prostitution”. The tone of which is rather ‘human rights violations aren’t very nice, but it’s none of our business, guv‘. This despite FIFA dedicating a whole area of their website to their ‘Fair Play’ programme, boasting “In addition to its numerous activities designed to improve the sporting environment for everyone concerned in football, FIFA is committed to encouraging fair play in society too, leading by example and showing fairness, impartiality and solidarity among all of its groups”.

So what I want to know from FIFA is this. How come you can spend so much of your time promoting ‘social development through football’, support for children, peace, campaigning against racial discrimination – all excellent causes of course – but when it comes to the trafficking, slavery, exploitation of thousands of women as a by-product of an event you organise, not only do you fail to lavish similar smooth marketing attention on the issue but you can’t even issue a press release without disclaiming so heavily you present the impression that you think it’s nothing to do with you?

You could be forgiven for wondering whether this group of gentlemen think Fair Play is just for the boys.

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