Did 40,000 Prostitutes Enter South Africa and Germany for the Last Two World Cups?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: 40,000 prostitutes enter the country hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2006 and 2010.

The World Cup this year is unique in that it is the first time in years that we haven’t seen a pile of stories about how there are tens of thousands of prostitutes coming into Brazil for the World Cup. That, though, is only because of Brazil’s laws about prostitution – in other words, no one would believe that you’d need to have 40,000 prostitutes come into Brazil because of the high amount of prostitutes already there. However, there ARE numerous articles about how prostitutes ARE coming to Brazil and in all of them, they cite the “fact” that 40,000 prostitutes came into South Africa for the World Cup in 2010.

Is that true?

The major problem was that in 2010, they were just copying the same “facts” from the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

In a 2005 article by Tony Paterson for The Independent, he talks about how Germany was going to handle the “invasion” of prostitutes to the 2006 FIFA World Cup that was held in Germany.

In 2010, though, Iva Skoch for the Global Post wrote, “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 were 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 like the American Coalition Against Trafficking in Women) and soon there was a good deal of hype in Germany over the 40,000 figure.

The hype was so great that the German government, who were sure that the 40,000 estimate was grossly out of sync with reality, were 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, they 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 towards families visiting the games, not single men.

It seems as though the 40,000 figure from Germany was just transposed on to South Africa, which actually breaks a pattern, of sorts, that Brendan O’Neill of Spiked noted back 2010. 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 earlier article I quoted by Iva Skoch. 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 then 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 reported for Yahoo Sports, the South African government basically laughed at these figures. They didn’t see ANY substantial rises in the number of prostitutes in South Africa nor of any trafficking rings. There was some rise in prostitution, of course, no one is suggesting that major month-long 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 was the need for prostitutes in South Africa so some prostitutes from neighboring countries made the trek hoping to make a lot of money. But those prostitutes likely found the pickings relatively slim. Heck, even in the article by Skoch, a prostitute interviewed who did come to South Africa is quoted as saying “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!

The legend is…

STATUS: False

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, in particular interest to me was a section on the evolution of the “40,000” figure.

Also thanks to Laura Agustin, an immigration expert who served as the source for a number of articles on the above topic.

Here are some other articles by Agustin on the subject from her website: a story on the sex-football connection, one about African sex workers going to South Africa and a 2010 World cup piece she did. Thanks, Laura!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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