PtG Article 28.06.2007

Prevention programme proposed to stop football trafficking

Each year many school-age African boys come to Europe because they believe they have a contract with a professional football club. Unfortunately, the majority have been set up by false agents and end up in the streets as illegal immigrants with no money. Now members of the European Parliament want to put an end to this illegal practice and propose a solidarity fund and prevention programmes.

Jean-Claude Mbvoumin is a former football player from Cameroon who today heads up an NGO in Paris that tries to help young Africans who realise they have been framed by false football agents or unceremoniously dumped by a club because their talents did not develop as expected.

The organisation is called Culture Foot Solidarie, and it estimates that in France alone there are more than 7,000 young Africans living on the streets after failed attempts to play for a professional club.

Jean-Claude Mbvoumin explains to the International Herald Tribune that many of the boys have paid 3000-4000 Euros for visas and plane tickets to so-called agents that have duped them into believing that a club contract is waiting for them. The money has often been scraped together by the boys’ extended families in the hope that a football contract will solve all their economic problems. When the plan falls through the boys are too ashamed or scared to go home and end up trapped in France without any means of subsistence.

442 cases in Belgium

The problems also exist in other countries. In 2005 the Belgian senator Jean-Marie Dedecker told the Play the Game conference that he had exposed 442 cases in Belgian alone of illegal importation of young players from Nigeria.

Several of these minors came from local football academies that had connections to clubs in Belgium. Dedecker found examples of illegal contracts where the boys were offered only food and lodgings in Belgium whilst the agent and the football academy scooped up the entire transfer fee without giving the boys anything.

Solidarity fund

According to observers, the trade in minor African football players has increased and members of the European Parliament are concerned that the upcoming World Cup in South Africa may fan the football dreams and make more young African players accept ‘offers’ from suspect agents who tempt them with contracts at European clubs.

A group of MEPs headed by the Belgian Ivo Belet, have now put forward a number of suggestions that could help stop the trafficking. One suggestion is that UEFA should introduce provisions supplementing the rule on ‘locally trained players’ as a way to limit the room for African players.

The MEPs also propose the establishment of a specific fund to finance preventive programmes in young players’ countries of origin. The programmes should warn young people and their families from uncritically pursuing football dreams in Europe.

Culture Foot Solidaire is already in the process of building such a prevention programme and the first office will be based in Cameroon, the native country of Jean-Claude Mbvoumin.

“A lot of African parents are completely naive. They trust anyone who is white and promises to bring their kids to Europe. Of course, none of the agents are officially accredited by FIFA, and normally the kids only know their agent’s first name or a nickname. That’s why I want to open offices in Africa to inform and support young footballers and their families,” Jean-Claude Mbvoumin recently told the Financial Times.

Learn more about exploitation of young African football players: