What is really going on?
Africa, second largest continent in the world, is blessed with vast natural resources and naturally gifted footballers & sports youths but unfortunately it is the poorest in the world due to various factors amongst which is total disregard for its people and these include many young talented football players.
It is a travesty that human trafficking in football is still on the rise and one of the biggest problems that need tackling, yet little or not enough is being done by some governments of Africa to alleviate and put a stop to it. There have been so many kinds of articles & reports written about this endemic problem of social & economic sabotage perpetrated by some impish football agents and their feeders [the impersonal football academies] that know nothing about using football to educate, support and encourage the young ones of Africa about life values.
Some aspiring young African footballers have seen some of their football heroes and role models moved from the slumps of their local community to the greener pastures of Europe to earn loads of money. They now feel they can emulate these players by following in their footsteps through whatever means, hence they become the easy targets for some predatory agents who have no true interest but false promises compounded with more misery and despair for these unsuspecting youngsters and their parents. This reminds me of the words of Arthur Erickson that said, “We are yet to have a conscience at all about the exploitation of human cultures” Football is one of the cultures of Africa that should be protected.
Every parent would, in the real world, want to give the best to their child but sometimes that is impossible to do, so for some parents when an opportunity- [like the prospect of their child playing football in Europe for money] – comes their way it is like an answered prayer. Now, it is right to point out here that, there is nothing wrong with anyone playing football or any sport for money. My concern here, though, is what sort of solid preparations are put in place for the child / children in considerations to their academic education, welfare and other benefits alongside their football career ( if they succeed in getting into a club to play- that is). The way football has evolved into this enormous business entity is no wonder most African youths (male or female) see it as the ultimate poverty get-out clause.
Since the last South Africa 2010 soccer world-cup, there has been many unlicensed football academies springing up in and around the west and south of Africa and young football players are being exploited by FAKE agents.
With the high number of stranded young African football hopefuls, dumped by these predatory agents, that end up on the streets of Europe through exploitation- with no food, no shelter, no jobs and facing harassments from the immigration authorities with nothing to look forward to -It is about time serious mechanisms are put in place (both locally & internationally) to eradicate the modern SLAVE trade that is on the rise and the taint it is having on the beautiful game.
A number of children and their parents are being deceived and exploited by these predators into believing that they (predator football agents) can provide them with the lavish life of a European footballer. It is important to stress that there are some excellent and professional football agents out there, who have and protect the interest of their clients.
If i can share one of the touching stories I came across recently regarding a 13yr-old boy who was promised a bright footballing career if his parents would fork out some money (which they did) to the agent to cover their travel cost to one of Europe’s elite clubs. On their arrival in Holland, the boy was taken to a lower league football club for a two-day trial but was unsuccessful. The agent now lodged the boy in a one-day stay accommodation with a promised to come back for the boy the next day. Following day; no agent and no money, the property owner had no choice than to call the police. The boy ended up at an embassy that eventually helped him get back to his homeland. There are many other disturbing stories of deceit and neglect involving these unscrupulous agents.
For any parent to let a child of between 10 -14yrs of age leave home to a strange country without any family or familiar faces, regardless of any promises, usually create uncertainty and insecurity for that child which is a dangerous and an irresponsible thing to do on the part of the parents. A former Cameroon footballer star-Roger Milla– once said, “It is the parents’ fault they get lulled into this belief that their son can make a lot of money and they sell everything they have “, this basically says it all. Luckily there are a few voluntary non-profit organisations who are left to pick up the pieces, after these young hopefuls are abandoned, by lending a helping hand. One of these organisations is run by former Cameroon footballer – Jean-Claude Mbvoumin (Culture Foot Solidaire).
FIFA and UEFA have promised so much (with little effect) to stop this despicable exploitation of these young players but has failed in their capacity as the governing bodies to seriously act as they would normally do in other cases of infringement of the rules & laws of football.
To cite an old adage: ‘there‘s no smoke without fire’. We all know there is a problem in the exploitation of African youth football talents but there has to be a solution and to do that, we need to look at some of the causes of this problem:
- Lack of investment- by governments, corporate organisations and premier league clubs- in schools & local soccer academies in Africa in order to promote local leagues
- Poverty – high level of poverty
- Greedy & Selfish agents
- Lack of tighter licensing legislation that focuses on the activities of football agents across Africa and the buying Clubs
- Lack of proper monitoring and supervision of football academies that facilitates accountability
- The abandonment of the FIFA sponsored ‘GOAL’ Project- [which was supposed to facilitate regional centres for young football players and other sports matters] – in some parts of Africa.
- Corruption, which is a deep rooted problem from the top.
This brings me to the million-dollar question-
What, then, can be done about this human trafficking?
There are many ways this problem can be addressed, if only the parties (FIFA, Africa football bodies, Uefa & National governments) involved can implement tough measures and put in place a set-up that will address the causes of youth player migration and exploitations.
The possible solutions, In addition to the existing rules and legislations, would be for the world football authorities (FIFA, Football Agent Licensing board, e.t.c) concerned to focus on:
- How to make African footballing bodies accountable for investments in infrastructure for youth Football programs that incorporate social and welfare issues, with punitive measures for those not achieving the goals.
- A tightening of the rules and regulations on football agent licensing across the board (both nationally & internationally) including serious fines for the buying clubs flaunting the rules.
- New ways to strengthen the child protection regulations for Africa Youth Football Players.
- Encourage the incorporation of sports curriculum activities in the schools as a must-especially in Africa.
- Initiate programs to educate parents on the dangers of entrusting their children’s future with a stranger without proper checks.
As much as these are practicable suggestions, I do feel that a lot has to change in Africa, as a whole, to make it the stage to display the abundance of football & sports talents for its benefits through focusing on building the right infrastructure and investments.
Obviously, there would be more that can be implemented that I have not mentioned here, you can contribute by suggesting some positive direction to eradicate this human trafficking in the name of football and decency.