On the eve of the World Cup in Germany, the State Department's big concern is not over whether the US soccer team has a prayer of getting past the Czech Republic and Italy, but rather over the flood of prostitutes expected into Germany from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
The US, in its annual report on forced labor and trafficking in persons, called Germany, which has legalized prostitution, "a source, transit and destination country" for sex workers, the more so during the soccer tournament.
"Due to the sheer size of the event, the potential for human trafficking surrounding the games remains a concern," the State Department said in its report.
It called on the German government to increase police enforcement during the games.
The warning to Germany was a rare slap at a close US ally.
The report did not include Germany in a list of 14 more serious offenders that the State Department says make little effort to control serious problems with trafficking in persons.
Some groups criticized the report, noting that most of the countries cited as the worst offenders -- which can lead to economic sanctions -- are not US allies. They include Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan, Venezuela, Syria, Cuba and Zimbabwe. The only countries on the list that are close US allies are Saudi Arabia and Belize.
India, Mexico and China were on a separate "watch list" for the second year, prompting complaints that the State Department was trying not to alienate them.
"What we want is for the United States to implement this law without any political considerations at play," said Jessica Neuwirth, president of Equality Now, an international women's rights organization.
In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, which set out new penalties for slave traffickers and required the State Department to publish an annual report on slave trafficking worldwide. The sanctions are subject to the president's discretion.
Germany legalized prostitution in 2002, and German brothels have been gearing up for the confluence of legal sex and the World Cup, which is expected to bring 3.5 million tourists to the country for the tournament, which begins Friday. Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg have all expanded their red light districts and sex-trade entrepreneurs have opened mobile brothels.
German officials, while defending the country's policy of legalized prostitution, say they nonetheless do not condone human trafficking, and have intensified efforts to rein in the flow of prostitutes into their country in advance of the Cup.
The report says that between 600,000 and 800,000 people, most of them women and children, are trafficked across international borders every year.