FIFA World Cup: Not all game but human trafficking, sex tourism and drug abuse

The United Nations opines that football’s obsession with fame, money and the hunt for talent has started a modern day slave trade.

Pinak Pani DattaPinak Pani Datta | Updated: 12-12-2019 16:33 IST | Created: 15-06-2018 21:32 IST
FIFA World Cup: Not all game but human trafficking, sex tourism and drug abuse
Russia has given a visa-free entry during the FIFA World Cup 2018. (Image Credit:
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In Nigeria, ten children, all of whom were in possession of a FIFA fan pass, were rescued by the officials in connection to a human trafficking racket. The group consisting of nine girls and a boy were intercepted at the Lagos' main airport when the officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking of Persons (NAPTIP) suspected them for having only one-way ticket. Five suspects, including a policeman and a quarantine officer, have been arrested in connection to the incident.

Human trafficking is a big menace around the world. The U.S. Department of State estimates that around 600,000 – 800,000 people are trafficked illegally every year. And, when it comes to global events like FIFA World Cup or Olympics the intensity increases manifold.

During the 2014 Brazil World Cup, more than 600,000 fans visited the country out of whom a vast majority, almost 75% were men. These were tourists flying to the host country for a vacation along with the sports festival. According to blogger Michelle Lillie, where there is tourism, there is also sex tourism.

According to the above video, the Brazilian law sets the age of consent to fourteen-year-olds since 2009.

In Brazil, prostitution laws are similar to India and some other countries. All persons above the age of 18 can take money in exchange for sex. But running a brothel or pimping is prohibited by law. But that does not stop the illegal network of sex trafficking. Due to the two mega-events – FIFA World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016, there had been a huge increase in the demand for sexual services. Young girls, some as young as 10 or 11 years of age, were brought from other countries to 'entertain' the tourists flying in. They mostly came from extreme poverty. Coupled with selling their bodies, they are also prone to drug abuse, which some victims say helps them go on.

A woman aged 41, who has lived on the streets since she was seven, told The Mirror: "The children are at real risk from local men and tourists. They go with the men because they are high on drugs or need more money to buy drugs. They use drugs to numb the pain of the sexual abuse, become addicted then need to sell themselves over and over again to raise the money."

During the 2014 edition of the FIFA WC in Rio, Vatican nuns launched a campaign against forced prostitution and sex tourism. They publicised statistics which shows that sexual exploitation rose by 30 percent in connection with the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and 40 percent at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

FIFA and Human trafficking: The other side

Human trafficking is also a perennial problem in soccer-crazy nations of West Africa. There is a scam by a network of fraudsters who offer 'opportunities' to young boys who come from a poor background. They promise a trial at any of the big European football clubs for a fee of as high as €3,000 which generally includes their cost of visa, passport, and airfare.

The United Nations opines that football's obsession with fame, money and the hunt for talent has started a modern day slave trade. There are many unauthorised youth academies which sell adolescents to European or Arabian middlemen who try to sell them further to the European clubs. But often they land up nowhere.

As per a Foreign Policy report, after being recruited from west African soccer playing nations like Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal, the athletes are abandoned in Europe. The agent vanishes with the money and the young boys are caught with poverty in a foreign land. Hence they take up other options like crime and black economy.

The sport's governing body FIFA's response has been pro-active yet ineffective. In 2001, FIFA introduced the Article 19, which sets the regulations of international transfers of players. As per the law, a player below the age of 18 cannot migrate to another country. There are a few exceptions though - if the player's home and the club's base is within 30 miles from the international border then he can migrate, if a player is above 16 and migrating from one European country to another then it is allowed, and if a player's family migrates country for a different reason other than soccer then also it is permitted.

But the regulation has received criticism from the American continents. Young Brazilian and Argentine players are often recruited in big Spanish clubs like FB Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid and due to this ban, the players are on the losing side. The three big clubs mentioned have received short bans regarding the same. English giant Chelsea is also under investigation for possible breaches.

Russia had given a visa-free entry during the Confederations Cup held in Moscow last year which extends to the FIFA World Cup 2018 as well. Julia Siluyanova of Russian anti-slavery group Alternativa last month told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the eased visa rules were a "present for traffickers", as its normally strict system had typically made trafficking time-consuming and costly.

Many women and girls have been lured from Nigeria in recent years with promises of work and good wages only to end up sold for sex and trapped in debt bondage, and the World Cup could see the number of victims arriving in Russia soar, Siluyanova added.

The World Cup kicked off on June 14 with host nation Russia taking on Saudi Arabia in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, with the final to be played at the same stadium on July 15. Ten other cities will also be hosting World Cup matches.

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