What has football done to deserve its reputation for attracting thousands of prostitutes to its major fixtures? A report from CNN says the sex trade in South Africa actually slumped during the World Cup — but tens of thousands of visitors surged through art galleries and museums.

Prior to the World Cup event just ended, as also before the 2006 event in Germany, informed sources were predicting that as many as 40,000 prostitutes — many of them trafficked women — would converge on the host nation to meet the “demand” from soccer fans.

There may well have been some increased activity of that sort around game venues in Germany, where prostitution is legal anyway, but a report by the Council of Europe found that there was almost no evidence of trafficking. Perhaps because of official prevention measures, but also, perhaps, because the connection between sport and sex is exaggerated.

People in the sex trade in South Africa — where prostitution is illegal, though widespread, like HIV/AIDS — have told CNN that business was down during the past month.

“People went to the bars and stadiums to watch the games and afterwards they went home. They didn’t bother themselves with coming to us,” Zobwa, who works as a prostitute told CNN.

Cultural centres, however, reported record attendance. Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum planned for 2000 visitors a day but saw around 4000 a day — and one day 6000.

“We thought people were coming here for the soccer and party but we’ve been pleasantly surprised. Some of the teams visited too,” said deputy director Wayde Davy.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery also saw visitors increase:

“We normally have around 3,000 visitors but this month it’s been closer to 4,000 which is a significant increase for us. We were worried that we would be inundated with sport hooligans, but there seems a lot of interest in our culture. We’re situated by a fan park, but we’ve had no examples of drunken behavior, just friendly visitors and big donations in our tips box!”

Museums Africa had nearly two-and-a-half thousand foreign visitors during the Cup, compared with 472 in June last year. Roshene Singh, the chief marketing officer for South Africa Tourism, says that about 300,000 people visited for the World Cup, most between the ages of 25 and 55, “with many coming in as families or with corporate sponsors”.

That all represents a “win” for the beautiful game and its fans.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet