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Stop the trafficking of underage soccer players

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Effa Steve is a typical boy from Equatorial Guinea. Everyday Effa goes to the local soccer field, laden with trash and broken shards of glass, to play soccer with his friends. The June 01, 2010 Sun says that when Effa was fourteen years old he was approached by a Bulgarian man offering to escort Effa to Europe and let him try out for one of the top soccer clubs…for a small price. Names like Drogba and Essien flashed through the young boys mind. These African soccer players had succeeded, why couldn’t he?
Two years and little progress later, Effa lives in a poorhouse in Paris, and the agent is nowhere to be found.
The June 11, 2010 Huffington Post states that there are currently over 20,000 African soccer players abandoned in Europe. According to the United Nations, trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world; Africa is considered one of the world’s hotspots. When we from the west think of trafficking we see the sex trade in Thailand or forced servitude in South America. However, this particular problem of trafficking African soccer players had not been part of the conversation until Mariana van Zeller’s documentary was released in 2010 entitled “Soccer’s Lost Boys”: and we are partly responsible. The September 18, 2011 New York Times hails soccer as the “world’s most popular sport”.
Today we will first, look at some of the impacts surrounding the trafficking of soccer boys. Second, we will discuss some of the causes regarding this, and finally, we will talk about some possible solutions for the crisis at hand.
While human trafficking a worldwide issue, there are three main causes that keep this particular African crisis in circulation.
First, in line with Zeller’s documentary, most boys will not make it into a sports academy, so they simply quit their education to pursue soccer. This crushes not only their hopes but also of Africa as it loses its future doctors and teachers. The June 02, 2010 news.change.org said that over 2 million child athletes showed up to audition for a prestigious sports academy in Quatar when only 23 spots were available. The demand for schools that provide both education and competitive soccer training is mounting. Indeed, the June 02, 2010 Huffington Post expounds saying “the competition to get a child into a legitimate soccer academy is ruthless is like saying Hurricane Katrina was a bit inconvenient for New Orleans residents.”
Second, the rise and popularity of African players in European leagues has led to this problem. The June 11, 2010 Huffington Post says that in 1989 European leagues had an average of four white African players and that in 2008, there were over 60 black players. An April 29, 2010 TIME says that Didier Drogba, one of the most popular professional players from West Africa, has been credited with commencing peace talks within his home country—one that has been ravaged by civil war and poverty for years. Politicians and armies could not accomplish together in years what one famous African soccer player could in a few days. Traffickers take advantage of the hero like status of professional players and the boys that emulate them.
Finally, just as a running faucet does not keep water from draining, so FIFA’s Transfer Matching System, or TMS, has no point of entry clause. Fifa’s website says that TMS is an online system created to combat the transfer of underage boys between soccer clubs. The system requires that both clubs, the sending and the receiving club, enter in identical pieces of information for the boy. FIFA’s website says that if the information does not match, the boy is not transferred. However, the November 08, 2010 news.change.org says that while there is some protection within this system, there is nothing stopping traffickers from going into their homes in the first place.
While these causes keep this problem in circulation, this particular trafficking is an issue that will have two extreme impacts, on these boys and Africa as a whole.
First, we need to understand who the primary victims are and what happens to them when they are trafficked. In Zeller’s documentary we meet Coach Danny Smith, who currently holds the “rights” to over 300 underage African boys, who he can buy and sell as he pleases. The desperation of poverty along with the hope of a better life makes these boys especially susceptible to this deception. Furthermore, Jean Claude Mbvoumin, founder of Foot Solidaire, a trafficking awareness campaign, says that these boys “go into the black market to survive”. Indeed, the September 30, 2010 Sports Illustrated says that, “nobody blows the whistle on this practice because it’s not in anybody’s interest to do so” and so, when the boys arrive at their destination, they quickly turn to illegitimate means of survival, whether by the selling of fake Prada handbags, drug dealing, and even prostitution.
Secondly, we must understand what happens to the families of those trafficked. The June 01, 2010 Sun says that trafficking of African soccer players is a business “playing on the false hopes of millions of impoverished slum mothers, conned into believing their footballing sons will rescue them from misery.” Some families have paid over three times their annual salary in their effort to send their sons abroad. The November 05, 2010 Inter Press Service of Johannesburg says that Maurice Kone was trafficked from his home of South Africa. Maurice and his parents struggled to meet the demands of the agent until eventually; Maurice’s father went into debt to see his son to the west in hopes “that in the future, he could take charge of his seven brothers and sisters”. Regrettably, stories like this are increasing.
While these three key causes keep this problem expanding, there are three organizations making strides to combat this problem. Our solution, collectively, is simply to give, support, and volunteer.
First, on a governmental level, African nations and the Western nations that partner with them must treat education as necessary to their mission. Right to Dream, according to its website, is a boarding school in Ghana that recruits underprivileged talent in order to, as their mission states, “nurture young African talent”. Graduates of the program receive up to five years of fulltime education, personal leadership and soccer training. They then move into a variety of roles, some gaining fulltime scholarships to universities in the United States or the United Kingdom. Currently, they have a success rate of 100%.
Second, at a regulatory level, FIFA needs to take responsibility for the activities taking place under its umbrella. While the continuing of education in Africa is a problem, there are many people, along with Right to Dream, making strides to combat this problem. According to FIFA’s website, Prior to the 2010 World Cup, FIFA created 20 Centres for 2010, a campaign directed specifically towards Africa to help disadvantaged communities through soccer. By the year 2013, twenty new schools will be built across the nation of Africa seeking to improve impoverished communities. Currently, four are completed.
Finally, on a personal level, we need to engage youth all around the world about the realities behind professional sports. According to their website, Foot Solidaire is an “organization with the goal of protecting young soccer players from exploitation”. Not only does this program seek to raise awareness amongst the already trafficked, it also seeks to integrate young Africans into predominantly European dominated leagues. They seek to stop corruption and fulfill the dream, all at once.
While these solutions are helping to improve life for the youth of Africa, we must keep in mind that, for Africa, the road to the west is still a long way off.
Today we have looked at the causes, impacts, and solutions behind soccer trafficking. Effa Steve, abandoned and alone, now says his life is “misery and cold”.
The July 18, 2011 ESPN Media Zone says that FIFA’s 2010 World Cup Championship game was the most watched soccer telecast in ESPN history, that is, until the women’s world cup championship the following year. One of the largest industries in the world and one of which many in this room have taken part in, soccer, is also becoming a homegrown problem to the trafficking of young soccer players. Thus, we can say confidently that, the wellbeing of the impoverished should not be determined by ratings.



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