PtG Article 07.11.2005

Football's trafficking in third world athletes

The first day of the Play the Game conference concluded with an in-depth examination of one of the biggest problems facing world football - the exploitation of players.

The session began with a battling address by Jean-Marie Dedecker, Belgian Member of Parliament and a seasoned fighter against the exploitation of young footballers from Africa by unscrupulous agents. His address focused primarily on some of the 'bad' elements in today's sporting world, namely the 'human trafficking' of young football players, predominantly from Africa. He pointed to Belgium's current income tax laws, which provide financial incentives to foreign footballers as contributing to the specific problem in his home nation.

In addition to the 30 legal football agents in Belgium, Jean Marie Dedecker claimed that around 170 illegal mavericks exist, counting many former players among their number. He did not shy away from naming names, and stated that many are also involved in drugs, prostitution and organised crime.

Dedecker was threatened with his life after announcing a plan to travel to Nigeria to investigate the roots of the problem. After careful consideration, he sent an agent instead who found compelling evidence relating how young boys with potential are recruited with promises of riches and encouraged to travel to Europe. Once they arrive, they are often paid no wages, given only basic food and lodging and sometimes kept as virtual prisoners in appalling conditions.

In addition, he claimed, the practice of changing passport details is commonplace, and secretly sanctioned by the Nigerian Embassy - under the protection of Belgian ministers. These and other facts were related to him by two young apprentices who escaped from their 'captors'.

Dedecker also described the growing phenomenon of 'football plantations' - nursery clubs in Africa and elsewhere - which are set up specifically to feed their richer European counterparts. He pointed to Lokeren, a medium-size Belgian club, which now has five 'satellite clubs' in Africa, each with an agenda of profit as opposed to social welfare.

One method of combating this exploitation, he suggested, could be a tax on transfer fees, which would be used to benefit the welfare of those who have been exploited by the human trade - and, like the vast majority of hopefuls, do not get rich from the game.

A transfer tax in the Olympic spiritThe idea of a new tax was also proposed by the next speaker, University of Paris Professor Wladimir Andreff. A former soccer player himself, Prof. Andreff expressed concerns that young football talent in Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere is increasingly being seen simply seen as a 'huge pool of sporting labour' by European clubs and agents.

Andreff claimed that little incentive exists for any talented players from developing nations to remain in their country of origin; meaning sport in their country suffers right down to the grassroots level.

His detailed proposition - which he called a 'Coubertobin' tax against muscle drain' after the Olympic founder - would see a percentage of transfer fees used to fund players' education, support sports training in developing countries, and provide a disincentive to the 'muscle drain'.

Pierre de Coubertin, he pointed out, had argued that all sportsmen and women should have similar access to resources and sports facilities.

Investigations by Jean Marie Dedecker, Belgian senator, has turned up shocking evidence about the trafficking in young African football players


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