40,000 sex workers look to cash in on World Cup

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Within this month hundreds upon thousands of soccer fans will fill the South African stadiums for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in hopes of watching their favorite teams score. But as the beer is poured, and inhibitions are lost, many of these same fans will be looking to score for themselves outside arena.

That’s why South Africa’s Drug Central Authority estimates 40,000 sex workers are on duty round-the-clock for the post game activities. Many of the workers are from all over the world, and have either traveled or have been trafficked to South Africa to tend to nearly 450,000 mostly-male visitors.

This isn’t the first time soccer attracted the sex trade, The World Cup has always been a magnet for sex tourism, but in a country where 1 in 5 people are living with HIV, international health experts believe sex workers will contribute greatly to the rise of newly contracted HIV infections that are certain to spread in other countries — this has led world-wide media and governments to look to FIFA for leadership.

In response to being under the global microscope, FIFA has committed to dispensing 1 billion of the condoms South African President Jacob Zuma requested for the major sporting event in the stadiums, but critics say that’s not enough.

Dianna Massawe is an advocacy officer for Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce, an non-profit organization located in South Africa, that works closely with sex workers dealing with issues on health and human rights. She thinks FIFA could take a larger role in leadership, but the organization may risk losing support.

“Sex work is a controversial issue and one that not many people would want to take up especially if there are larger ramifications to it,” says Massawe. “It is for this reason that I think that they do not only take a stance on sex work and many other issues.”

Massawe is not alone, most who are familiar with the lives of sex workers say FIFA is protecting its fans and closing a blind eye to the realities that exist in South Africa.

Bonita Meyersfeld heads the Gender Unit at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Witswaterand University, and is a fierce advocate for sex workers rights.

“It would be fantastic if before every soccer game, the team captain stood up and said we believe in safe sex, consensual sex, and the dignity of every woman and child,” says Meyersfeld. “FIFA is a rich organization and they are putting so much money into this event, but when they leave the same problems will still exist.”

Many attribute large economic disparities as the reason sex work is such a profitable and popular professional choice in this region, and despite the fact that prostitution is illegal in South Africa, Meyersfeld says sports fans wont have any problems finding what they are looking for.

“It will be easy to get a sex worker, its as easy as it is buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks,” says Meyersfeld — and that worries her.

According to Meyerfeld, South Africa not only has one of the highest HIV rates in the world, it has one of the highest rates of rape — making it one of the most dangerous places for female and children sex workers in the world during this time. So it’s more likely that sex workers would need protection from the soccer fans.

However the responsibility doesn’t only fall on FIFA, Massawe believes the South African government should be held at the highest standard.

“We [SWEAT] did not engage FIFA on the issue because we know they normally do not engage on such matters, and also they are not the ones who are accountable to the citizens of South Africa. We sent two letters to the then Minister of Justice and the Minister of Safety and Security asking for no arrests of sex workers during and after the World Cup until the laws have been review…we still haven’t heard back from them.”

The International Organization of Migration, however is keeping and open ear to complaints of people who are trafficked or forced into sex labor.

Like Massawe, Meyersfeld wants less accountability put on the workers, and more on the fans. “I’ll tell you what’s going to happen to these men purchasing prostitutes – absolutely nothing.

But this soccer sex scandal maybe a bit overblown. Some are saying the large projection of sex workers migrating to South Africa may not even be accurate.

Chandre Gould, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank working in the area of African Human Security, says don’t trust the numbers you hear.

“The number that you hear [of sex worker traveling to South Africa for the World Cup] is not based on any evidence or fact, it was thrown out as a estimate at a press conference. The same figure was give in 2006 and the World Cup in Germany, and the number of sex workers that attended were far less.”

But either way FIFA has to find a way to deal with the surrounding issues of their hosting countries wherever they go. Prostitution is also a big problem in Brazil, so the organization will most likely face the same set of difficulties four years from now at the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.