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A Global Sports Problem

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The 2010 World Cup opens in South Africa in a few weeks. As a sports event, it is unrivaled in its popularity. It promises to bring a half-million soccer fans to that country.

But it will also draw out the worst of the worst. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the economic promise of an expected half a million largely male incoming consumers is attracting a massive influx of prostitutes from across the border in Zimbabwe. Hotel managers are guessing that as many as 40,000 ladies of the evening are assembling from as far away as Hong Kong, Pakistan and Venezuela.

This is not the first time this unholy amalgam of sports and the sex trade has materialized. Evidence shows this to be the norm.

The last World Cup competition four years ago in Germany, where prostitution and brothels are legal and tax revenue-generating, attracted thousands of "sex workers" to exploit the crowds. It made a dirty joke out of the tournament motto, "A time to make friends."

The German government prepared for the expected boom in the sex trade during the World Cup (and an expected boost in their tax revenues) by allowing the construction of brothels and temporary "sex huts." Cities hosting World Cup games were allowed to issue special street permits for street prostitution.

What did FIFA, the organizing agency of the World Cup, have to say? The group's president, Joseph Blatter, responded to letters of protest by insisting he objected to any involuntary and illegal human trafficking, but washed his hands of the broader question. "FIFA, as a sporting organization responsible for competitive football, is not in a position to control what happens outside the perimeters of the stadiums; it has neither the power nor jurisdiction to do so."

This was also a problem with the Olympics this past winter, but it's hard to find any statement by International Olympics Committee president Jacques Rogge addressing the controversy. Earlier this year, Vancouver prepared for an influx of prostitutes at the Winter Olympics in a very Canadian way. While the press fussed at the city pressing the homeless people out of visible spaces, the city police made a verbal promise not to arrest or displace prostitutes "for the sake of public image."

Out-of-town whores, yes; homeless locals, no.

In Vancouver, sexual cynicism was all the rage. An advocacy group called "SafeGames 2010" passed out "SafeKits" including condoms, informational phone numbers, a guide to Vancouver's legal avenues of prostitution and "etiquette tips" for their clients. Be polite while conducting your business transaction.

My goodness, how we've evolved. Once upon a time, human rights advocates busily denounced conditions wherein these world-traveling prostitutes were forced into this degrading business, even as children. Their treatment at the hands of pimps and traffickers no longer draws the sort of attention the soccer matches do. Now the concern is for prostitution "etiquette."

The same kind of "progressive" advocacy is happening in South Africa, an acknowledged hot spot for human trafficking. Libertine activists tried unsuccessfully to get prostitution legalized, either permanently or just temporarily for the soccer tournament. With that avenue blocked, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT) has proposed distributing condoms and lubricants packaged with a soccer logo during the tournament, as a "public health" measure in a nation where more than 10 percent of the population is HIV-positive. They also have recommended coasters printed with the (pro-business) message: "Don't leave this bar without picking up a condom," to be placed in bars where matches were watched.

London is already preparing for a prostitution explosion during the 2012 Olympics, and just try to imagine what kind of spectacle will unfold in the partying capital of Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The Olympics were founded with idealism. When Pierre de Coubertin began the modern Olympics movement in 1896, he envisioned a global event to promote peace and brotherhood through athletics. There was virtue in the struggle to improve, a struggle that demanded self-denial. The motto was "Faster, Higher, Stronger." It would be a shame if the audience for these games only fights to be fastest to the brothel when the day of games is over, and the night games begin.

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