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The Link Between Human Trafficking and Major Sporting Events

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

It’s a Penalty is a UK-based NGO with a global output. We harness the power of sport in order to prevent abuse, exploitation and human trafficking.

In recent years, the link between human trafficking and major sporting events has drawn global media attention and been a cause for significant debate. [1]

Because of the underground nature of the crime, solid data on human trafficking around major sporting events is limited. [2] However, it has been suggested that the influx of a huge amount of sporting fans and tourists to a city can exacerbate existing cycles of human trafficking and exploitation. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from survivors of sexual exploitation reveals that some traffickers see the increased tourism around these events as opportunities to make money. [3] In the lead-up-to major sporting events, the large demand for building and construction, as well as hospitality services, can also increase the risk of trafficking for forced labour. [4]

The potential increase in risk associated with major sporting events does not, however, mean that these crimes only take place in a city whilst it is hosting such an event. Media reports which highlight the ‘dark side’ of major sporting events have often drawn attention away from the ongoing problem of human trafficking and exploitation in a city in favour of sensationalisation, and have therefore been rightly criticised. [5]

Recently, the issue of trafficking in and through sport has been highlighted in high-profile cases of the abuse of sportspeople by their coaches and doctors [6], and stories of aspiring athletes who are trafficked by people posing as sports agents or talent scouts. [7] As well as preventing human trafficking from taking place around major sporting events, there is evidently a great need to safeguard athletes, both professional and aspiring, from being exploited.

This is why It’s a Penalty launches awareness-raising campaigns in the lead-up-to and during major sporting events – both to contribute towards the positive legacy of these events in the hosting city and to use them as a platform for positive change and educate large numbers of people on the subject matter.

This month, we've launched our latest campaign ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

In addition to Ellie Simmonds, Usain Bolt and Cathy Freeman, the campaign is supported by Olympic athlete Asha Philip and netball star sisters, Sasha and Kadeen Corbin. These high-profile athletes have lent their voice to help raise awareness via a 30-second video shown in-flight by Emirates Airlines and British Airways, and digital posters to be displayed at Birmingham Airport, on public transport and at motorway services across the West Midlands. Through partnership with local NGOs and the travel and tourism industry, we are distributing digital toolkits containing campaign posters (translated into four languages), business cards and a list of local missing people at risk of exploitation to Hilton hotels, faith communities, and Airbnb hosts throughout the region. We are also working with local universities to educate young people as part of our Student Ambassadors Network programme and create slavery-free campuses across the West Midlands.

To maximise the impact of our Birmingham Campaign, we’d be delighted if fellow Commonwealth 8.7 Network members would support on social media by reposting the campaign video and sharing posts. For suggested wording and graphics, please see our Comms Guidelines:

Thank you!

[1]. L. Martin and A. Hill (2019). ‘Debunking the Myth of ‘Super Bowl Sex Trafficking’: Media hype or evidenced-based coverage,’ Anti-Trafficking Review 13, pp. 13-29 (p. 13)

[2]. R. Finkel and M. L. Finkel (2015). ‘The “Dirty Downside” of Global Sporting Events: Focus on Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation,’ Public Health, pp. 17-22 (p. 21).

[3]. It’s a Penalty (2020). ‘A Survivor’s Story: Sam’, It’s a Penalty Blog. Available at:; Whitcomb, D. (2019). ‘Kentucky Derby a magnet for human trafficking, officials warn’, Reuters, 23 April. Available at:

[4]. All Party Parliamentary Group on Sport, Human Rights, and Modern Slavery (2018). Workers in the Construction of Mega-Sporting Events, p. 4. Available at:

[5]. L. Martin and A. Hill (2019). ‘Debunking the Myth of ‘Super Bowl Sex Trafficking’: Media hype or evidenced-based coverage,’ Anti-Trafficking Review 13, pp. 13-29 (p. 13).

[6]. Associated Press (2018). ‘Sports impacted by sexual abuse cases’, 31 January. Available at:

[7]. University of Nottingham Rights Lab (2021). The problem of sports trafficking: setting an agenda for future investigation and action. Available at:

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