Summer sporting extravaganza must not be a boom for traffickers
by Catherine Bearder
Euro 2012 and London Olympics could be fertile ground for gangs of trafficked children, forced to pick pockets and beg, as well as the sex industry – warns MEP
Sport is an amazing force. It has the power to unite nations, bridge divides and inspire generations. This summer, we are lucky enough that three European countries are hosting major events, with Poland and the Ukraine jointly hosting the Euro 2012 football championships and the Olympics heading to London. Events like this are a fantastic example of a healthy sporting competition between nations and can be great for our collective morale. However, there is also a seedy side to these competitions - a hidden world we should be mindful of.
In April, I made a speech in the European parliament on the issue closest to my heart - human trafficking. It is the buying and selling of human beings. And it is the modern day slave trade - selling people for things such as sexual exploitation, forced begging and domestic servitude. It is a business and business is booming. More than one person is trafficked across borders every minute, equivalent to ten jumbo jets a day. The trade earns twice as much worldwide revenue as Coca Cola.
Like all businesses - those who profit from this vile trade in men, women and children seek to insure that their ready supply of victims reaches the points of highest demand. It is difficult to know what factors influence these decisions due to the illegal nature of the industry. But, more and more concerns have been raised that large sporting events can lead to a rise in human trafficking. One of the best things about sporting events such as Euro 2012, is that they draw large crowds; providing a boost for tourism and the local economy of the hosts. Although, many of the police officers and non-governmental organisations I speak to about trafficking raise the concern that these large crowds are the very draw for the traffickers.
Not only is it fertile ground for the gangs of trafficked children forced to pick pockets and beg on the streets of our European cities, but there is also expected to be an increase in the demand in the sex industry. This is a contentious issue. The evidence on the correlation is yet to be confirmed. But my argument has always remained the same. If one person is trafficked into London, Warsaw or Kiev this summer due to the sporting events being held there, that is one too many.
It is why I have echoed the European Union's anti-trafficking coordinator Myria Vassiliadou who last year said "sporting events are a hub for criminal gangs" and "we want to see awareness-raising when it comes to sporting events". It is this awareness-raising that is crucial. That is why I wrote to the Union of European Football Associations' president Michel Platini at the start of the year, to find out what is being done before this summer's tournament. We can only hope it will be enough.
Catherine Bearder is a British MEP and a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe