Churches are joining forces with other faith communities, womenís groups and secular human rights activists to protest at the fact that women, many of them trafficked in from poor countries, will officially be sold for sex at the forthcoming 2006 World Cup.
Campaigners say that sex slaves from eastern Europe are going to be among those women who will be used to provide ëoff-pitchí entertainment for football fans in Germany (June 9 - July 9).
The main venue in Berlin now has a 3000-metre fenced-in area filled with ëperformance boxesí, equipped with condoms and showers and looking like toilets. This ëpitchí will accommodate 650 clients. There is parking provision, with a special focus on protecting ëanonymityí.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) quotes a lawyer working for the contract as saying: ìFootball and sex belong togetherî
Activists stress the importance of concerned parties working together across boundaries of culture, gender, faith and non-faith ñ to emphasise that opposition to the trafficking and exploitation of women is a basic human concern.
People in the forced sex industry are keen to portray opposition as coming only from ëreligious prudesí.
Amnesty International has recently stepped up its work against sex trafficking, pointing out that it is a growing phenomenon in places like the UK.
They are urging supporters in Britain to call upon the UK government to ratify the European Convention Against Trafficking as a matter of urgency.
The sex trade comprises the biggest proportion of the European trafficking industry and Germanyís is the biggest in Europe, says the National Board of Catholic Women in England and Wales.
ìWhile some women may be working by choice, many women, trafficked mainly from Albania and other eastern European countries, and classed as ëexoticí in the advertising material, will also be housed thereî, explains NBCW.
The Catholic women say that ìWhile an estimated three million spectators ? mostly men, some women and children, and television viewers across the world - enjoy ëthe beautiful gameí, other girls and women will wait in their ëboxesías enslaved merchandise, on sale to help men ëunwindí and celebrate or mourn their teamís performance.î
Anti-sex slave activists point that ìtrafficked women dare not speak about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual violence done to them day after day.î
In the UK church groups are working together through CHASTE (Churches Against Sex Trafficking in Europe).
International standards of sport are supposed to promote equality, mutual respect and non-discrimination. The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) President, Sepp Blatter, acknowledges ìthe prominent role of sport and especially football, as a vehicle for delivering clear and firm messages to eradicate the huge blights undermining society around the world.î
For this reason campaigners are asking how FIFA or the Football Association in England be seen by default to support an industry that treats womenís bodies as commodities?
Say the Catholic women: ìTrafficked women are not prostitutes ? they are merchandise, with no say in either the buying or selling of their bodies. Brought in by traffickers, who often sell them on to others, the money they earn goes direct to their ëownersí.î
They add: ìThe World Cup, the premier football event, brings people across the world together in enjoyment of sport. To ignore what is happening off-pitch is not good enough ? the sex trade will continue to flourish, linked now with the pleasures of ëthe beautiful gameí. It is vital that authorities, players and fans refuse to bring football into disrepute in this way.î
Campaigners are urging people to write politely to FIFA, the Football Association, the England Football Supporters Club, the Minister for Sport in the UK and the German government and embassies ñ asking them to explain what is being done to check that all the women are working of their own free will, without pressure or fear.
The Federation of International Football Associations can be contacted at FIFA House, PO Box 85 8030 Zurich, Switzerland; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org