The beginning of the World Cup in South Africa next June kicks-off a festival of football on the pitch, but there are a wealth of issues for the host country to tackle off the field too.
Up to half-a-million fans are expected to visit for the tournament and a string of sparkling new stadiums and hotels have sprung up to accommodate them. But that influx of supporters also brings with it a danger of an explosion in the sex trade and the threat of increased trafficking to service demand. A similar flood of vice business was forecast leading up to the previous World Cup, in Germany in 2006, especially as prostitution had been legalized in the country. This avalanche of punters was anticipated to attract an extra 40,000 sex workers — some of them trafficked – while so-called “mega brothels” were built in major cities. But various studies commissioned after the event said demand had not spiked at all. An European Union report found there was “no sign whatsoever” of any extra sex workers and that business was even reported to be down in many brothels. It is widely believed the German focus on intiatives such as fan parks and public viewing areas for the matches enhanced the family-friendly feel of the event. The German State Ministry of Economy and Women in Berlin said there were 33 cases of trafficking at the time of the World Cup but only five were directly related to the tournament. The country’s borders had been strengthened in readiness for the competition.
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Given Germany’s success in patrolling the event, there have been calls to legalize prostitution in South Africa ahead of the 2010 tournament, but the Government is not expected to push any new laws through before next June. Many fear the South African sex trade will be harder to police than in Germany, where legalized prostitution provided better access for the authorities. There are also question marks over South Africa’s borders, as Johannesburg child welfare worker Carol Bewes told CNN: “Our borders are very porous it is easy to get people across. You have to pay the border officials and you can have a whole taxi load going through. “Once they are in South Africa their papers, passport, identifying documents are taken away from them and held by the traffickers, they might be beaten, raped or put onto drugs.” Zambia’s Merab Kambamu Kiremire — who is the Director of the MAPODE (Movement of Community Action for the Prevention and Protection of Poverty, Destitution, Diseases and Exploitation) — echoed Bewes’ concerns and said hundreds of cross-border criminal gangs were planning to “cash in on the expected sex-tourism boom.” In her view, the South African Government is not well-equipped to deal with the problem. The fact the country also has a high level of AIDS is also a major headache. Five million people in the country are HIV positive so any steep rise in the sex trade carries its own specific threat. With eight months still to go before the tournament begins there are many important issues mounting for the South African authorities, and very few of them are to do with the football itself.