Major concerns: World Cup, HIV and sex trafficking in South Africa

Recent news items raise serious concerns about HIV and World Cup 2010: put them together and you’ll see why I’m obsessing about it The World Cup is in South Africa next weekend. South Africa has the highest recorded HIV rate in the world (one in five adults; 1400 new infections every day). FIFA is the international soccer association hosting the World Cup and usually only allowing official sponsors at stadia, parks, fan events and parties. AIDS groups and health workers raised the alarm that FIFA was blocking condom distribution at venues, because FIFA only allows World Cup official sponsors at fan events, fan parks, stadia, official parties, etc. FIFA reacted to the alarm and just announced today they will be running HIV awareness campaigns in fan parks (fan parks are enclosed viewing spaces). It’s great to see FIFA make this policy change. Prostitution is illegal in South Africa, so we have to hope this will be adequate outreach, especially when you add in the very real issue of sex trafficking in South Africa. More thoughts after the jump.

Image: Durex condom ad.

First: Sex Trafficking at the World Cup ( Snip:

(…) For trafficked prostitutes, the [HIV] rate jumps to 90 percent, according to Ben Skinner, a Harvard fellow who writes on the sex trade and sex trafficking. (…) “Stop 2010 Human Trafficking,” a project organized by a non-profit Christian alliance in South Africa, warned this week that as many as 100,000 women could fall victim to traffickers during the World Cup. Activists also worry that the cup might contribute to the existing—serious—problem of trafficking of under-age girls for prostitution in the country.

(…) For under-aged girls trafficked into prostitution during the World Cup, AIDS and tuberculosis is “the end-game for those children,” said Skinner, adding that an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 of the prostitutes for the games will be girls under 18. While prostitution is illegal in South Africa, a leading advocacy group for sex workers in South Africa—the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force, or SWEAT—has used the occasion to advocate for legalization, and a study has been commissioned in connection with the games to research whether major international sporting events actually trigger an increase in trafficking of children and women. (…)

Then this: World Cup 2010: Fifa blocking condom distribution at venues, say Aids groups ( Snip:

(…) “To date Fifa has not permitted any civil society organisation to distribute HIV- or health-related information and Fifa has not provided any written confirmation that condoms may be distributed at stadia and within the fan-fests,” the groups said in a statement. “This is despite the fact that commercial sponsors selling alcohol will have dedicated spaces available.”

The statement – from bodies including the Aids Consortium, Community Media Trust, Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, Section 27 and Treatment Action Campaign – added that Fifa had a “moral obligation” to work with local organisations “to protect both citizens and visitors alike from HIV infection, TB and the H1N1 virus”.

It said they had requested without success an urgent meeting with Fifa and the local organisers to discuss their concerns. Fifa said it was not aware of any such requests, and that a meeting was under way to address the issues. (…)

So, FIFA did meet and respond. Let’s hope their fan park awareness campaign is enough to reach areas where prostitution is actually occurring between fans and sex workers. (Again, sex work is illegal in South Africa.) A UK friend writes me saying,

“The average demographic of soccer fans will probably mean that there is a market for underage girls. Not saying all, or even most, fans are interested in underage… but there will probably be enough of them to make it an issue. Aside from the prostitution angle, to give you some context there is a lot of concern about general security for the World Cup. There is the ever-present Islamic terrorist issue which South Africa has NO experience with – there are rumors American and UK are providing covert support on that one but clearly only South African troops and police can actually enforce security.

There is also the concern that gangs will venture in from the poorer countryside and neighboring countries and kidnap wealthy fans.

Then there is the issue that fans often end up fighting and stabbing each other, so security has to be present just to keep the English and the Turkish from fighting (Turkish fans like to kill English fans, sadly). Also Argentina is an issue with English and because of the close proximity to South Africa it is expected there might be a lot of Argentina fans too. I don’t know about other country rivalries.

So… they have all these security issues to deal with, I bet there is little to no policing of non-security issues such as vice.”

Share This Post


  1. Thanks Steve for giving good feedback with real perspective.

    As a South African I too must give some real context on the security issues.
    The terrorist threat is exactly the same as any other large event in the world. No more and no less. The ability of the South African police to handle this situation may be limited, which is a rational concern, but hopefully with the assistance of Interpol and others (I’m sure FIFA haven’t left this unchecked) any credible terrorist danger can be reduced. We don’t really have our own terrorists – they’re too busy cashing in on the spoils of liberation!!

    The idea of “gangs venturing in” from the countryside or neighbouring countries is simply laughable. (Wouldn’t any decent gang rather operate in a city than exist in the countryside anyway?). As with any large cities there are dangerous areas and safer areas. Tourists should simply be aware and try not to be too distinct or outstanding – naivety will get you in trouble should you stumble across the criminal element.

    Obviously the police will have their hands full with rowdy soccer fans which leaves little to no opportunity to control prostitution and vice but these “crimes” go largely unprosecuted anyway, World Cup or not.

    South Africa is a country quite flooded with condoms as part of a drive for AIDS awareness – they are very freely available at a good price at all petrol(gas) stations and shops, and the “government-issue” types are often simply being handed out on street corners.

    Oh, and there are some fantastic exotic venues to be visited which will hopefully keep the tourists on a “safer” path too.

  2. Having visited South Africa recently, it seems to me that the danger of international soccer fans contracting AIDS in South Africa is no greater than it would be in any other big city. While it is true that South Africa has a shockingly high HIV rate, the people getting AIDS are not folks with enough money to buy World Cup tickets. Rather they are poor black men from places like Transkei who have to spend 6 months away from their wives while working in the mines in Gauteng. This situation hasn’t changed much since the early 1900s. Naturally, these guys patronize bargain-priced prostitutes who may be HIV positive.
    I found far fewer examples of prostitutes soliciting white foreigners in South Africa than I did while in Shanghai a couple of years ago. Moreover, the South African government is doing as much to encourage safe sex as most government. I found free condoms on the hotel counter in a $30/night backpacker lodge on the Wild Coast. Soccer fans the world over can doubtless find many ways to contract STDs. For them, South Africa doesn’t seem more risky than any other country.

Post Comment