For the past one week or so, similar to millions of other people, I have been enjoying the group stage of Euro 2012. I love football and try my best to watch games of the World Cup or the Euro Cup, but as a result of my increased involvement in the field of human rights and my particular interest in trafficking in persons, I have recently discovered a different side to two of the biggest sport events in the world.
Kathryn Farr is definitely correct when she observes, “It is almost a truism that wherever sizable groups of men congregate away from their homes and families – whether to fight or to seek refuge from fighting, to keep the peace, to work, or to play – demand for prostitution increases”. In her book, she focuses on armed conflicts and the resulting abuse of women and young girls on a large scale, whether before, during, or after the conflict. Her statement, however, could certainly be applied to events happening in the absence of an armed confrontation. By emphasizing patriarchal structures, Farr acknowledges that the devaluation of the feminine and exultation of the masculine lead to wide-spread prostitution and rape. What she highlights is that both rape and the use of prostitutes are thought to be inevitable, if not normal, behaviors of men, especially in the excitement of an event that brings out what society considers male characteristics: aggression and power. To satisfy the high demand for sexual services during times of a major event, the criminal organizations do not shy away from resorting to violence, force, and coercion to make sure there are sufficient numbers of women to meet the demand.
Sexual abuse is what shocks the general public, but it is not at all the only form of human trafficking that permeates major sport events. During the 2010 World Cup, for example, there were several reports about child labour used to make the necessary for each game soccer ball. Further, thousands of men were brought from surrounding countries to assist with the construction of venues and the upkeep of fields. When the euphoria of the World Cup subsided and the sounds of vuvuzelas dissipated, many of these men were left with no payment and no opportunity to even return to their home nations, which only made them more vulnerable and perfect targets for future exploitation.
The issues with exploited or forced labor certainly apply to any major event, sport or otherwise (see: EUROVISION). The problem is not simply that exploitation takes place in order for millions to enjoy a game; the problem is that such abuses are considered a necessary and inevitable aspect of such events and that there is not much that could be done to prevent them. Fortunately, many are starting to talk about and expose these violations and it would soon be hard for those responsible to dismiss and ignore them.