The lesser-known sport of the World Cup

By July 5, 2010

South Africa (MNN) — With an increase in people comes an increase in demands. South Africa has discovered this firsthand as they've upped the ante on transportation, hotel space, and shopping for the World Cup. In an attempt to meet every need, however, there has been one disturbing consequence.

Human trafficking has increased immensely in South Africa in preparation for the international tournament, mostly (but not exclusively) for the purport of prostitution. There have been several reports of an influx in human trafficking since the games began, but business moves swelled long before the June 11 kick off. Many of these dealings have been in the works for years.

"[Traffickers] started the trafficking of people in 2004 as soon as they found out the World Cup would be in South Africa," says Martha Richards, a missionary for International Mission Board in South Africa. "That's when the traffickers started organizing official trafficking for this event."

There is a common misconception–even by South African police, who turn their heads from prostitution because it brings revenue into the country–that women prostituting themselves at these sorts of events are earning money and have chosen their profession on their own. But these lies are not reality. Many men, women and children as young as 10 have been enticed into this lifestyle having no idea they would soon be enslaved, and they don't keep a penny of the money they make.

"Basically they play on your fantasies, your dreams, what you want from life," says Richards. One of the most common ways she's seen women enslaved is when traffickers–be they male or female–play on the women's vanity.

"[They] tell them, ‘If you come with us, we can put you into this beauty contest.' And as soon as they get them out of that area, they're usually raped immediately by the trafficker [himself] if it is a man, or if not, given to somebody else to rape her. [She's] raped and beaten just non-stop until she finally has given in and is ready to be put out on the market, so to speak, to others."

But another unusual form of trafficking has been taking place during the World Cup. Richards accounts that traffickers have also been using the games as a way to get free labor from young men. In the past few years, predators have gone to rural areas in search of young men who love and are good at soccer. The traffickers have pretended to be professional trainers or coaches, telling the men they would bring them to the World Cup where they would be able to meet professional players or join a pro club team. As soon as these victims went with them, however, they were sold to work in fields or even as sex slaves.

Richards herself has been approached by pimps who aren't aware that she knows who they are while she's out ministering to prostitutes. One man found out she was single and immediately began to make his move. When he discovered she was a Christian, he asked her to go to church with him. Richards says what seems harmless to people who don't know better than to go with this man would very likely have turned into kidnapping, rape, and enslaving.

"Anybody can be trafficked," confirms Richards. "Anybody."

In response to this terrible influx, South African churches have organized all sorts of events to raise awareness and to try and provide a way of escape for trafficked victims. Some groups even focused on the incredible HIV/AIDS rates in South Africa to scare clients away. Richards says these outreaches did seem to help, especially in terms of ridding the women of clientele, but she also notes that it's incredibly difficult to tear women away from this lifestyle. Many are convinced that it's their fault, that they owe their traffickers, and that their pimps actually care for them. The emotional scars are simply too deep for them to just step away.

At this point, it seems little can be done. The cards have already been played, and many men, women and children who were trafficked in preparation for the World Cup will either remain slaves or will be thrown to the streets in the aftermath. The most important and perhaps most effective thing to do now is to pray.

Pray for the church to continue to reach out in love to these victims. Pray for the men, women and children who are in bondage despite their innocence. Pray that they would respond to those reaching out to them and, in turn, to God's voice. Richards asks that we pray especially for the traffickers.

"If a pimp's life is changed for Christ, who knows how many lives that could change," says Richards. She suggests people also pray that God would work on the hearts of those who use the services of those trafficked.

To find out more about human trafficking in South Africa from Richards' research, visit


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