Megasports: The intersection of human trafficking and Sport for Development


Sport for Development and Peace  (SDP), although a relatively new concept, employs sports as a vehicle for change, operating under the ultimate goal of improving communities. SDP has been painted as heroic in its efforts, bringing communities together, building partnerships and developing individuals. Although SDP has proven successful, in recent years, organizations such as Right To Play have been using Megasports as their foundation and platform for change. By definition Megasports are" international sports events, like the Winter and Summer Olympics, FIFA soccer tournaments and the Commonwealth Games have expanded in size, sponsorship and spectators" (There Are Alot Of New People In Town).  Through practice and analysis we can observe that soccer, amongst other Megasports, can teach people to work together, develop leadership skills and overall promote a balanced and healthy lifestyle (Right To Play). Thus, the nature of Megasports lends itself towards the mission of SDP, and optimizing on these facets can ameliorate the quality of life for many that compose a community.

Megasports events are often thought to increase a sense of national pride, stimulate economic growth, improve opportunities for foreign investment, and modernize transportation systems, amongst other national benefits. (The 2010 Football World Cup). Although this is often the case, I would like to turn towards a different dimension of Megasports, one that often goes unnoticed: human trafficking, defined as “the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.” (Polaris) 

Although the majority of countries that rely on sex tourism and human trafficking as a source of income are found in developing parts of the world such as: Thailand, Cambodia and India, and involve mostly women and children, it is still a pervasive phenomenon all over the world (Polaris). Often, prior to events such as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, or the Super Bowl in the USA, claims circulate, predicting an increase in human trafficking.  For example, it was rumored, that up to “40,000 foreign women would be trafficked into the country for sex work, and…that many children would be abducted or trafficked for the same purposes” (The 2010 Football World Cup). It is, however important to note, due to the elusive nature of human trafficking and sex tourism, these statistics and numbers have yet to be quantitatively substantiated, but have been assessed qualitatively via case studies and interviews.

Not only does human trafficking occur at mega-sports events in developing parts of the world, but also in the United States of America, According to Cindy McCain, wife of Senator John McCain and co-chair of trafficking task force set up by the Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. At a media call organized by anti-trafficking non profit, the Polaris Project, she stated that “The Super Bowl is, as all of you know, one of the world's largest human trafficking centers.” (The SuperBowl and Sex Trafficking). This is a curious, yet striking statement, and we wonder how her authority is sustained.  

It is my intention, through this process, to investigate further the relation between human trafficking and Megasports. Specifically, if and how Megasports perpetuates the cycle of human trafficking and sex tourism.


I plan on researching this topic via a few different channels and methods. Academic journals being my primary method of investigation, offer valid, peer reviewed information on the “dirty downside” of human trafficking (The Dirty Downside). These include papers titled: The 2010 World Cup and the Regulation of Sex Work in South Africa, and Soccer Sex and Slavery: Human Trafficking in the World Cup. I hope to accumulate sources that approach human trafficking at mega-sports events from a variety of perspectives: health policy, economic development and human rights. From those reports, I hope to gain a better understanding of the relation between the two phenomenon. Additionally, some academic journals include case studies and interviews, also known as qualitative information, which is necessary when assessing human trafficking, as quantitative reliable information is rarely readily available due to the clandestine nature of sex tourism and human trafficking. There are, however, other qualitative measures that speak to the severity of human trafficking in both the developing and developed world. For example, an article published in Globalization and Health, features case studies and a variety of interviews. Additionally, periodicals are going to be a source of inquiry, as information about the Super Bowl and human trafficking is derived from there. Articles titled: The Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking or Cindy McCain's Project offer insight into the topic at hand.  


When analyzing the development ethic behind SDP and mega-sports, which can often preach development, it is very important to consider every dimension of the issue including human trafficking. If mega-sports eventually cultivates more opportunities for human trafficking an environment conducive to sex tourism, then we must question whether or not we are in fact developing a platform for Human Trafficking. Ultimately, we must assess what exactly SDP stands for, and whether or not mega-sporting events are articulating to that- whether they are doing more good than harm in combatting issues surrounding human trafficking, amongst other human rights, and issues in the domestic and international sense. It has become evident that policing at events such as these increases, but rarely does policy change in favor of ameliorating the situation with regards to victims of human trafficking. Before continuing to support SDP, it is vial to analyze the nature of Megasports, and how influential it can be on a society, potentially in a negative manner. It is my intention to continue researching this topic and developing my own opinion, throughout the course of my research.


Bonthuys, Elsje. "The 2010 Football World Cup And The Regulation Of Sex Work In South Africa." Journal Of Southern African Studies 38.1 (2012): 11-29. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2015

Finkel, R., and M. L. Finkel. "The 'Dirty Downside' Of Global Sporting Events: Focus On Human Trafficking For Sexual Exploitation." Public Health (Elsevier) 129.1 (2015): 17-22. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

"Human Trafficking | Polaris | Combating Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery." Human Trafficking | Polaris | Combating Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Mogulescu, Kate. "The Super Bowl and Sex Trafficking." The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Morrow, Katherine L. "Soccer, Sex, And Slavery: Human Trafficking In The World Cup." Tulane Journal Of International & Comparative Law 17.1 (2008): 243-266. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Richter, Marlise L., et al. "'There Are A Lot Of New People In Town: But They Are Here For Soccer, Not For Business' A Qualitative Inquiry Into The Impact Of The 2010 Soccer World Cup On Sex Work In South Africa." Globalization & Health 10.1 (2014): 1-22. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

"Right To Play." Right To Play. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

17 Tul. J. Int'l & Comp. L. 249 (2008-2009)

Soccer, Sex, and Slavery: Human Trafficking the World Cup; Morrow, Katherine L.