Human Trafficking in Modern Football By Deya Mwaibong

Recently, I stumbled over a report on Reuters that estimated the cost of doctor’s brain drain to Africa at a huge amount. The report said that Sub-Saharan African countries that invest in training doctors have ended up losing $2 billion as the expert clinicians leave home to find work in more prosperous developed nations.

The search for better living conditions and reward systems in developed countries is not restricted to medical doctors alone. Africa’s young footballers are living the continent every day in droves to realize their dreams of playing in the big leagues of Europe with its huge economic benefits. In the midst of this desperation to leave for Europe, most of these footballers become soft targets for human traffickers masquerading as FIFA licensed agents. The victims of trafficking predominantly belong to Africa, Eastern Europe and Asian nationalities.

 Most young footballers leaving Africa for Europe are barely educated and some of them are not even old enough to take care of themselves in foreign countries. On arrival, most of them realize that they had been lied to by their supposed agents and life becomes unbearable for them. Thereafter, frustration and disappointment sets in and the dream to play in the biggest leagues in the world is destroyed. It is worthy to note that no matter how talented young footballers are, without proper education and guidance, they are still vulnerable to the activities of traffickers who are in business to ruin their careers for economic gains.

He was nicknamed the next “Pele”, he was expected to be the next superstar out of Africa; Nii Odartey Lamptey, player of the tournament ahead of Alessandro Del Piero and other future stars in the Under-17 World Cup of 1991. Lamptey left Ghana at the age of fourteen to Belgium and signed a professional contract with Anderlecht for five years as soon as he was 16, but did not know what he was doing. He was not prepared for life in the big league, he could not read or write, and was exploited mercilessly by football money men. “I was cheated so much,” Lamptey says.

According to The Guardian, at one point in 1997, after being loaned to four clubs, Lamptey discovered his registration was owned not by Anderlecht, as he thought, but by his agent, Antonio Caliendo, who also represented Roberto Baggio and Dunga. Some years before, Caliendo had secured Lamptey as a client by flying to Accra and paying him a cash lump sum to sign on the dotted line. ‘I didn’t know the details of the contract,’ he says.

And the next “Pele” never came into reality. The next “Pele” became a victim of football’s money men. As at today, the human trafficking industry is estimated to be worth $9.5billion dollars globally. NewsRepublic stated in 2010, more than 10 years ago, that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued a report warning that “a modern ‘slave trade’ is being created with young African players.” In Belgium, the politician Jean-Marie Dedecker investigated 442 cases of alleged human trafficking with Nigerian players. Many of them ended up on the street, with some even falling into prostitution. There are also reports of 5,000 boys who went to Italy, hoping to begin careers as footballers, and then disappeared.


The Solution

The slave trade preys on young people who are not prepared to transition to adulthood, or whose families are in dire need of income. I believe that if poverty is tackled, then human trafficking in modern football would become a thing of the past, as young footballers would have better living conditions and therefore, the urge to leave for greener pastures at all cost would have been eliminated. In that way, the probability that they would remain prey to traffickers would be hugely reduced.


M. DeYa tweets @red_deya onb Twitter


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