Sexual enslavement at the Ryder Cup?

After spreading mad scares during the Olympics and World Cup, now anti-traffickers are turning their attentions to golf.

Stephen Paterson

Topics Politics

As golf fans count down to the first ever Welsh-hosted Ryder Cup, teeing off this Friday, Wales has been told to brace itself for an influx of sex-trafficking victims.

A recent Welsh Assembly report concluded that it is ‘highly likely’ that the Ryder Cup will result in a surge in sex trafficking to Wales. As evidence, it pointed to how Greece licensed new brothels ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics to meet demand and said that ‘mega-brothels’ were built to satisfy sex-seeking football players and fans during Germany’s 2006 World Cup.

The media has repeated the assembly’s claims without question, predicting that the Ryder Cup will ‘fuel a boom in women and children forced here from abroad to work in the Welsh sex industry’.

But there is one problem with all this: the claims around the Athens Games and the World Cup in Germany in 2006 are based on myths that refuse to die.

In the case of Greece, in 2003 the city in fact tried to close down 370 of the city’s 600 illegal brothels in the run-up to the Olympics. The crackdown sparked protests by sex workers, who accused the city authorities of wanting to be seen to clean up ‘Greece’s image’ ahead of the Olympics. The Athens Council denied this, stating that its motivation was simply concern over sex trafficking from Eastern Europe.

However, before you could say high jump, seven Nordic and Baltic gender equality ministers accused the Athens City Council of licensing brothels in order to cash in on sex tourism during the Games. Athens’ mayor, Dora Bakoyiannis, denied the charge, saying the city was trying to regulate brothels by making them apply for licenses, in accordance with a 1999 law which stipulates that all Greek brothels must have permits.

In other words, when 230 permits were issued to already existing brothels in the year before the 2004 Olympics, this was interpreted by abolitionists as Greece sanctioning a major expansion of the sex industry and, by extension, sex trafficking.

More than 2,500 women were forecast to be trafficked for the Athens Games, but as it turned out 181 victims of human trafficking were found in Greece during the whole of 2004 and not one was found to have been sex-trafficked for the Games.

As for the German 2006 World Cup, rumours about the construction of ‘megabrothels’ sprung from a moral panic that gripped Europe in the run-up to the football extravaganza event. The European Parliament even decreed – without a shred of evidence – that ‘any major sporting event at which large numbers of people congregate results in a temporary and spectacular increase in the demand for sexual services’.

Slovakian MEP Anna Záborská announced: ‘In the German capital, on the outskirts of the Olympic stadium, a 3,000 square metre “megabrothel” has just opened its doors to welcome 650 clients at any one time. Over 40,000 poor young women will be “imported” from the East in order to satisfy the post-match requirements of the spectators…’

In fact, after a near forensic examination and a mighty campaign of brothel raids to find and rescue foreign ‘sex slaves’, just five trafficking victims whose cases could be linked in any way to the World Cup were found in Germany. One of those was a German, another a man.

The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) – an international grouping of more than 90 NGOs fighting trafficking – referred in a recent briefing paper to the international ‘hype’ on the issue of sex trafficking around international sporting events. According to GAATW, the hype is ‘based on misinformation, poor data, and a tendency to sensationalise’.

In the face of international alarm and outrage, police in Berlin – where Záborská claimed that a ‘mega brothel’ had opened – raided 71 brothels during the World Cup in 2006. They found no evidence of trafficking but deported 10 women, says GAATW in its report: ‘The objective was to protect migrant or “foreign” women from exploitation, but in doing so, police targeted sex workers, aggressively raided brothels and intensified checks on brothels.’

GAATW goes on to point out that reports from around the world – from Cambodia to the US – reveal that such ‘rescue raids’ often lead to ‘extreme human rights violations of migrants, sex workers and trafficked people; harassment of sex workers; immediate detention and deportation of migrants without proper investigation; and sometimes re-victimisation of trafficked persons’.

As the sex industry itself often jumps to the same conclusion as the politicians and media about a spike in demand for sex during sports events, there are plenty of sob stories. However, many sex workers have reported a slump in business around sporting events. After the Athens Olympics, a sex workers’ leader told Athens News that ‘we haven’t seen the slightest increase in demand’, and during the World Cup in Germany many migrant sex workers returned home because they didn’t get enough customers.

Sex workers in South Africa suffered a similar fate during this year’s World Cup. Again, as in Germany, 40,000 women were expected to be trafficked and forced into the sex industry. Yet the owner of one of Johannesburg’s most exclusive escort companies told CNN that ‘The World Cup has been devastating… It’s been the worst month in my company’s history… No one is interested in sex at the moment. I think we’ve had three customers who travelled here for the World Cup which has seen my group’s business drop by 80 per cent.’

The chairperson of an action group representing around 70 street prostitutes in Johannesburg also said business fell: ‘People went to the bars and stadiums to watch the games and afterwards they went home. They didn’t bother themselves with coming to us. Before the tournament we were getting good money but [over the month] it has not been busy at all. We thought it was going to be much better but it has been boring.’

Things were little better at this year’s Vancouver Winter Olympics. Street sex workers found the Games a bleak period, but brothels apparently did a good trade. However, foreign clients were rare. Back in Newport, Wales, some sex workers have come up with an innovative special Ryder Cup offer. One escort service is offering a ‘Tiger Woods experience’.

Numerous studies and reports have shown that tales of mass trafficking of women and girls to sports events have no foundation. Yet Wales is on red alert ahead of the Ryder Cup. The cream of US and European golfers and their supporters seem as likely to be incinerated by Welsh dragons as they are to be inundated with ‘sex slaves’.

Stephen Paterson is a writer based in Wales. He blogs at An Anthology of English Pros.

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Topics Politics


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