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Sports Legend Revealed: 40,000 prostitutes enter the country hosting the World Cup

June 16, 2010 |  8:00 am

SOCCER/FOOTBALL LEGEND: 40,000 prostitutes enter the country hosting the FIFA World Cup.

STATUS: False.

Let me know if this sounds familiar to you. A country is worried about "the invasion of 'sex-workers,' who are expected to flood the country next year to cater for male soccer fans" while "[t]he event's organisers are expecting at least 40,000 prostitutes to descend" on the country to meet demand.

WorldCuplogo If you said that sounds like discussions surrounding this year's FIFA World Cup in South Africa, you would basically be correct. Those quotes generally do describe the mood in South Africa regarding the influx of prostitutes via trafficking rings (to get such large numbers of incoming prostitutes, trafficking rings involving forced prostitution would have to be involved). However, those quotes are actually from five years ago, in an article by Tony Paterson for the Independent in reference to how Germany was going to handle the “invasion” of prostitutes to the 2006 FIFA World Cup that was held in Germany.

But if you look at an article last month written by Iva Skoch for the Global Post, “South Africa's Drug Central Authority estimates 40,000 sex workers will trickle in for the event from as far as Russia, the Congo and Nigeria to cater to the wide taste spectrum of some 400,000, mostly male, visitors and their apres-soccer needs,” it cannot be a coincidence that the same exact numbers mentioned for Germany in 2006 are being mentioned in 2010 in South Africa.

What's interesting is that we can actually more or less pinpoint where the "40,000" figure came from in 2005. In autumn of 2005, the first major public discussions took place about the sex trade in connection to the World Cup, and the German Womens’ Council made a statement that there would be "more than 30,000" sex workers coming into Germany for the World Cup. As German authorities were in the midst of debunking even this claim, the "more than 30,000" turned to "up to 40,000" in the German newspaper Taz before becoming "40,000" in the German magazine Emma. It was this last figure that was picked up by the international media (and international organizations such as the American Coalition Against Trafficking in Women), and soon there was a good deal of hype in Germany over the 40,000 figure.

Fabforum The hype was so great that the German government, which was sure that the 40,000 estimate was grossly out of sync with reality, was pressured to spent millions of Euros in a quest to ferret out such cases of forced prostitution (voluntary prostitution is legal in Germany). Ultimately, when the Council of the European Union prepared a study in 2007, it discovered about 100 instances of people trafficked into Germany in 2006, only five of which were connected to the World Cup! In addition, the brothels of Germany did not even report heavy increases in sales, as it appeared that the demographics of the World Cup actually steered more toward families visiting the games, not single men.

It seems as though the 40,000 figure from Germany was just transposed to South Africa, which actually breaks a pattern, of sorts, that Brendan O’Neill of Spiked noted back in March of this year. The rumors of importing sex workers for major sporting events is nothing new -- the rumors were 10,000 sex workers being smuggled into Australia for the 2000 Olympic Games, then 20,000 sex workers being smuggled into Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games and then 40,000 for the 2006 World Cup. As O'Neill jokes, making up a rumor of 40,000 imported sex workers for the 2010 World Cup is practically a sign of great restraint considering the doubling that took place in the events before!

In the case of South Africa, once again we can pretty much pinpoint where the silliness got started. Look back at the article by Skoch I quoted earlier. Note how she cites "South Africa's Drug Central Authority"? Most articles on the topic do the same thing, cite the Drug Central Authority. Well, in an earlier article by the Telegraph, the head of South Africa's Drug Central Authority, David Bayever, is quoted as saying, "We've been told by event organisers that they are aware of about 40,000 new prostitutes being recruited to come into the country for the World Cup." You see? It goes from Bayever saying that he was told by people that there were going to be 40,000 prostitutes coming into South Africa to it being Bayever who is saying it. This twisted form of the "telephone game" is how a number that was basically pulled from thin air ends up being attributed to the South African government and proliferated throughout the international media.

How off is the 40,000 figure? As Les Carpenter recently reported for Yahoo Sports, the South African government is basically laughing at these figures. Its officials have not seen any substantial rises in the number of prostitutes in South Africa nor of any trafficking rings. There has been some rise in prostitution, of course; no one is suggesting that major monthlong events like the World Cup attract no increase in prostitution needs, just nothing remotely close to the figures bandied about. In fact, some of the increase is actually a result of the reports, as the word spreads that there is the need for prostitutes in South Africa, some prostitutes from neighboring countries make the trek hoping to make a lot of money. But these prostitutes will likely find the pickings relatively slim. Heck, even in the article by Skoch, a prostitute interviewed who did come to South Africa is quoted as saying that "work has been slow" (granted, that was before the Cup began)!

The real shame is that there are some serious issues at play here in South Africa regarding prostitution, particularly the heavy rate of HIV infection among sex workers (the HIV rate is bad among the general population -- among the sex worker population it is quite depressing). And yet those issues are being almost minimized over the hysteria caused by the make-believe statistics designed more for easy headlines than for anything else. Although, in the case of South Africa, at least, the hysteria did lead to the donation of millions of condoms, so something good came out of the invented statistics!

Thanks to all the journalists I cited above, and special thanks to the International Organization for Migration, who did a great study on the 2006 World Cup; of particular interest to me was a section on the evolution of the "40,000" figure.

And very special thanks to Laura Agustin, who I foolishly omitted the first time around. Agustin is a migration expert who was the main source for both the Spiked piece and the Yahoo Sports! article.

-- Brian Cronin

Be sure to check out my Sports Legends Revealed for more sports legends! Some recent sports legends include ...

Did Mussolini threaten to kill the Italian national team if they did not win the 1938 World Cup?

Which owner tried to fire one of his players during the World Series?

Did a former All Star MVP goalie die during an Old-Timer's Game?

Also be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for legends about the worlds of TV, Movies, Music and more!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Photo: Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." Credit: Touchstone Pictures.

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