International Sporting Events

A Prime Opportunity for Human Trafficking

A Global Injustice

Human trafficking, also known as modern slavery, dehumanizes mankind and is one of the worst injustices present in the world today. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are over 40 million slaves around the world today. Additionally, human trafficking is a massive industry — bringing in over $150 billion a year, according to the International Labor Organization. Women and children are especially vulnerable and constitute up to 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry and 58% of the victims in other sectors.

Human traffickers use many different tactics to keep their victims controlled while avoiding detection by law enforcement. Unlike illicit arms and drugs, human traffickers manipulate and condition their victims. This process may be so extreme that law enforcement officials could come in direct contact with a victim and have no idea the dangerous situation the individual is living. This presents a huge challenge, and the collection of accurate data about human trafficking, and all those involved, remains severely lacking.

Human trafficking can occur in any location and at any time. Still, there is a strong link between human trafficking and major sporting events such as the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, and NFL Super Bowl. As host countries or cities become more attractive to tourists, the demand for trafficked services also steadily increases.

Trafficking & Sports: How?

There are 2 main types of human trafficking associated with major sporting events: trafficking that occurs before the event (labor trafficking) and trafficking that occurs during the event (sex trafficking). Still, it is important to remember that these forms of trafficking can take place simultaneously, before, during and after the event.

Cheaper Labor, More Exploitation

With any international sporting event, such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games, host nations take on the responsibility of constructing all the necessary facilities. According to trafficking experts, the construction of these facilities marks the beginning of the human trafficking associated with the events. The need for cheap labor allows traffickers to deceive and exploit poor individuals from developing countries by promising them a good wage and opportunity abroad. Human Rights Watch reported that approximately 16,000 migrants were recruited from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Many of these migrants were subjected 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. Most received as little as $2 USD an hour, and some did not get paid at all.

Similar incidents of labor trafficking have been reported in Qatar, where the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be hosted. The situation in Qatar, however, is even more tragic as the International Trade Union Confederation reports that over 1,000 migrants have lost their lives due to dangerous working conditions. The ITUC also estimates that this number could rise to over 4,000 by the time of the World Cup in 2022.

Tourism Fuels Sex Trafficking

The exact number of women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation during major sporting event is severely under-reported due to legal prostitution in many host countries and the hidden nature of illicit sexual activities. However, it has been reported that sexual activities, including those with minors, rise in host nations and cities during these sporting events. Recently, CNN reported that 10 children were rescued at Lagos Airport in Nigeria on June 12, 2018 while their trafficker was attempting to transport them to Russia. Additionally, a human trafficking study revealed, unsurprisingly, that over 75% of the attendees at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil were men. Traffickers know that where there is a large population of men, combined with high alcohol and drug use,  there is an increased demand for sexual services. They take advantage of this opportunity by transporting their victims to the host cities in pursuit of profit.

Our Role

As both an athlete and a sports fan, I believe in fighting against human trafficking at these events. Human traffickers do not just exploit their victims; they also undermine state sovereignty and the international economy, as well as tarnish the image of our sports teams. Still, we can increase awareness by urging the governments of hosting nations to implement policies that will prevent exploitation, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. We can also encourage national and international sports organizations — such as FIFA, IOC, NFL, NBA — to take a more active role in demanding ethical practices and policies from host nations and cities. As the competition at the 2018 FIFA World Cup continues, join Free for Life in spreading awareness that this is a prime time for human trafficking. Free for Life’s vision is a reality where we can both enjoy the games and make them human trafficking free.

— Post written and researched by John Ampomah

Free for Life Summer Intern

Captain of Ghana Athletics – Track & Field

Rio 2016 Olympian


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Hepburn, S. (2017, February 14). It’s Not Just About Sex-Human Trafficking and Sporting Events. Retrieved from
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Friedman, M., & Odutayo, D. (2018, June 12). World Cup child trafficking plot stopped in
Nigeria. Https:// Retrieved July 12, 2018.
Free for Life
Free for Life Team
Free for Life is fighting human trafficking around the world in the areas of prevention, intervention and restoration. Together with our partners, we are working every day for our vision statement: freedom for all. View more posts by Free for Life.