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Soccer fans shun hookers for art's sake

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
  • Prostitutes, escorts see a slump in business during the World Cup
  • Sex industry has traditionally enjoyed a boost during the soccer tournament
  • South Africa museums and galleries say they are enjoying the World Cup bump

Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) -- The influx of thousands of soccer fans would increase demand on South African sex workers; at least that was the belief of a leading expert prior to the start of the 2010 World Cup.

But it seems fans of the beautiful game that traveled to the Rainbow Nation have created a flop in sex-worker business -- leaving prostitutes out-of-pocket and out of work -- in favor of more high-brow pursuits.

"The World Cup has been devastating. We thought it was going to be a cash cow but it's chased a lot of the business away. It's been the worst month in my company's history," the owner and founder of one of Johannesburg's most exclusive escort companies told CNN.

"No one is interested in sex at the moment. I think we've had three customers who traveled here for the World Cup which has seen my group's business drop by 80 percent. I enjoyed watching the games, but I can't wait for everyone to just go home now!" the madam, who works under the alias of "Tori," added.

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The behavior of fans in South Africa has run contrary to what was predicted prior to the start of the tournament after David Bayever told World Cup organizers in March it was feared that up to 40,000 extra prostitutes could converge in the host nation to meet the expected demand.

Bayever, deputy chairperson of South Africa's Central Drug Authority (CDA) that advises on drug abuse but also works with prostitutes, warned: "Forty-thousand new prostitutes. As if we do not have enough people of our own, we have to import them to ensure our visitors are entertained."

But the tournament in 2010, if anything, has seen the modern-day soccer fan attracted to art galleries and museums over brothels.

A trend that has seen a drop in revenue across the board for the prostitution industry, which is illegal in South Africa. "Zobwa," the chairperson of Sisonke -- an action group representing around 70 street prostitutes in Johannesburg -- said business had been down over the last 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.

"Before the tournament we were getting good money but [over the month] it has not been busy at all. We thought it was going to be much better but it has been boring. I've actually left Johannesburg now because there has been so little trade.

"Police have been keen to keep ladies off the streets and I don't think the foreign visitors were interested," Zobwa added.

But where one industry declined because of the change in soccer fans' tastes, another has boomed -- cultural centers such as museums and art galleries have reported record attendance.

Wayde Davy, deputy director of Johannesburg's Apartheid Museum, said visitors to see the exhibitions on South Africa's struggle against racial inequality had never been so good.

"Before the tournament we anticipated an increase in numbers, we planned for around 2,000 a day but we've actually seen around 4,000 a day. One day we saw over 6,000 people -- it's gone through the roof.

"We thought people were coming here for the soccer and party but we've been pleasantly surprised. Some of the teams visited too," Davy added.

Antoinette Murdoch, the chief curator of the Johannesburg Art Gallery -- which specializes in contemporary art installations -- said she had seen similar results.

"Fifty percent of our visitors have been international and there's a strong correlation between their country of origin and the teams playing in the World Cup," Murdoch said.

"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!"

Diana Wall, manager of collections at Museum Africa, said her center had also seen an influx of culture-craving soccer fans.

"Last June we had 472 foreign visitors, this year we've had nearly two-and-a-half thousand since the first match. We're situated in Newtown, a cultural district of Johannesburg, and our numbers have improved significantly."

Though reticent to comment before an official post-tournament report had been conducted, Roshene Singh, the chief marketing officer for South Africa Tourism, suggested that South Africa playing host might have made a difference.

"Having a World Cup in Africa is different from going somewhere more local. It's a long-haul trip so many have traveled with a holiday in mind too, so they probably want to have more of a total experience of the destination.

"We estimate that in the region of 300,000 people visited for the World Cup on packages costing anything between $2000 to $20,000. We noticed that most fans were between the age range of 25-55-years-old, with many coming in as families or with corporate sponsors.

"People who come to South Africa come for our people and our culture, those visiting have certainly had a great time. The township of Soweto has been full; shopping in the cities has also been very popular. The fans have been very well behaved and South Africans have been great hosts," she added.

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