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5 Ways to Encourage Sports Organizations to Recognize and Fight Human Trafficking

Sporting events provide us with gathering places, camaraderie, and common cause. National and international events, like the Super Bowl, the World Cup, and the biennial Olympic Games draw tens of thousands of people ready to cheer on their teams and engage in friendly competition. It can be easy to get caught up in the convivial nature of the events and miss the trade that is happening in the shadows. Large sporting events concentrate the demand for both sex and labor trafficking and the high populations around these tournaments create hotbeds of trafficking trade.

At many of these large events groups of nonprofit organizations, including Rahab's Daughters, combine with law enforcement and concerned citizens to actively combat trafficking. There is, however, one essential partner missing in this equation, the sports organizations themselves. While there are a few exceptions, most of the large international and national sports leagues don't acknowledge that human trafficking exists, nor do they take any responsibility for the sale of humans conducted in conjunction with their events.

There have been some recent signs of change. The MLB has made monetary donations to organizations combatting human trafficking following some player-led initiatives. FIFA has recently convened a Human Rights Advisory Board, but it took the deaths of several trafficking victims but it took the deaths of several trafficking victims who were forced to build the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, set to take place in Qatar, to make that happen.

How can individual fans start to hold the major sports leagues, the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL as well as major international organizations like the OLC and FIFA, accountable and demand they participate in the fight against human trafficking?

1. Directly ask what actions the sports organization is taking.

With the advent of social media, we have the ability to speak directly to companies and people in power, including the leaders of major sports organizations. When trafficking arrests are made in conjunction with the Super Bowl, ask the NFL what they are doing or plan to do to prevent human trafficking around football games. Remind the OLC that trafficking occurs around the Olympic Games every time they are held, and ask what they are planning to do to prevent it. Keep asking leagues what they are doing and what they are prepared to do to join in the fight.

2. When athletes or team owners engage behavior that enables trafficking, hold the teams and the leagues accountable.

Most teams and sports organizations have codes of conduct for their players and team owners, but it can feel like the are not enforced or enforced arbitrarily depending on the fame or wealth of the person involved. When incidents happen, like the arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for soliciting prostitution, hold the team and the league accountable. Demand action to enforce their existing rules of conduct.

3. When athletes or owners engage in behavior that combats trafficking, amplify it.

It's important to recognize that changes are occurring for the better and that sports organizations are not monoliths of thought and behavior. When players, teams, and leagues take positive steps to fight trafficking, like Albert Pujols' campaign against human trafficking, support their actions. Share the information with your networks and encourage continuation of the behavior or action. Many individual players have their own foundations or philanthropy causes, some of which work with other nonprofit organizations in the fight.

4. If you attend a game, look for signs of trafficking and report it.

If you suspect human trafficking while at a game, report it to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. It can be difficult to discern what to look for and be aware of, but some warning signs may be people who seem afraid or withdrawn from the people they are with.

5. Educate your fellow fans.

Human trafficking takes place all around us, but is hidden on the fringes. Most people who are enjoying a game aren't aware of the trade happening around them, don't know what to look for, and don't know how to report incidents. Make your friends and family aware of the problem and engage them in becoming part of the solution.

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