2014 is going to be a great year for sports fans interested in international affairs (or international affair’s fans interested in sports).  In the coming weeks Russia will host the most expensive Olympic games in history.  If that were not a big enough challenge they will be hosting it in a city more known as a summer retreat than a winter-sports venue, all within 250 miles of territory in political upheaval, while simultaneously facing international scrutiny over their human rights record.

 

A few months later Brazil will host the FIFA World Cup.  When Brazil was chosen to host this event, it highlighted the infrastructure development, international prestige, and tourist dollars it would bring to the country—not to mention home field advantage.  Now only a few months from kick-off, the entire affair is mired in controversy as the infrastructure is questioned and the diversion of money away from social services is criticized.  Last weekend mass protests in the streets of Sao Paulo in protest of the World Cup led to 128 people being detained or arrested. 

 

Before the world competes in these events, however, the U.S. will see the championship game of American Football—the Super Bowl.  While the Super Bowl is the dominant sporting event in the United States and has an ever-expanding cultural presence around the world, it admittedly does not have the pomp and circumstance of these other weeks-long international festivals.  However, some of the same global policy challenges apply. 

 2014 is going to be a great year for sports fans interested in international affairs (or international affair’s fans interested in sports).  In the coming weeks Russia will host the most expensive Olympic games in history.  If that were not a big enough challenge they will be hosting it in a city more known as a summer retreat than a winter-sports venue, all within 250 miles of territory in political upheaval, while simultaneously facing international scrutiny over their human rights record.

                         

A few months later Brazil will host the FIFA World Cup.  When Brazil was chosen to host this event, it highlighted the infrastructure development, international prestige, and tourist dollars it would bring to the country—not to mention home field advantage.  Now only a few months from kick-off, the entire affair is mired in controversy as the infrastructure is questioned and the diversion of money away from social services is criticized.  Last weekend mass protests in the streets of Sao Paulo in protest of the World Cup led to 128 people being detained or arrested. 

 

Before the world competes in these events, however, the U.S. will see the championship game of American Football—the Super Bowl.  While the Super Bowl is the dominant sporting event in the United States and has an ever-expanding cultural presence around the world, it admittedly does not have the pomp and circumstance of these other weeks-long international festivals.  However, some of the same global policy challenges apply. 

 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and a handful of other leaders are taking advantage of the Super Bowl spotlight to highlight one of these issues, Human Trafficking. They have hosted a series of events in this year’s host states of New York and New Jersey as well as next year’s host, Arizona. Ads on the subject are appearing in Times Square, on New York Subway cars, and everywhere else scenes of celebrating football fans would normally dominate.

 

Speaking at an event in the lead up to the big game with former New Jersey Senator Jeff Chiesa and Cindy McCain, co-Chair of the Arizona Governor's Task Force on Human Trafficking, Christie highlighted an issue that is becoming an increasingly large part of the United State’s foreign policy.

 

"You've got folks who believe they're coming to this country for one reason — to purse freedom and liberty and economic opportunity — and yet they are literally enslaved," he said. "The reason this is so hard to detect is because most of these folks come from places where law enforcement is not part of the solution, its part of the problem."

 

In September of 2012 Barack Obama gave a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative naming modern slavery on the most pressing issues facing global leaders.  In 2013 he launched a campaign to combat human trafficking by strengthening protections in U.S. Federal contracts, training law enforcement officials to identify and assist victims of trafficking, and increasing resources for victims. 

 

Despite these efforts, there are more people trafficked for commercial sex or forced labor around the world today than ever before, conservative estimates  putting the number around 21 million.  Large-scale sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup have a well documented history of attracting forced labor in preparation for the events and sex traffickers during the peak of crowds, but even smaller events like the Super Bowl warrant increased attention as well.

 

According to Forbes, 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl and 133 minors were arrested for prostitution during the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas.  It is encouraging that political leaders such as Christie are using the spotlight to draw attention to an issue often swept under the rug and lost in noise of these large events.

 

Cindy McCain has already begun talks with the NFL to include state and local trafficking laws and enforcement in the criteria it uses when choosing cities to host the Super Bowl.  Imagine the effect on global trafficking if the International Olympic Committee and FIFA did the same.