Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Football's Slaves

African footballers as young as 14 are being trafficked to Asia and forced to sign contracts, the BBC has learnt. Six minors are still with top Laos side Champasak United, after it imported 23 under-age players from West Africa to an unregistered football academy in February, a BBC investigation found. It has been claimed that Champasak United, a newly-formed club which plays in Laos' top league, intends to profit by selling the players in future.

Fifa regulations prohibit the movement of players to a foreign club or academy until they are 18. There are exceptions to Fifa's rules on the movement of players under the age of 18, but none of them apply in this case. In a clear breach of the world football governing body's rules, the club has fielded overseas players as young as 14 and 15 in league games this season. The minors' freedom of movement is restricted by the fact that they became illegal immigrants in March after their visas ran out. They are hoping to receive work permits but these are unlikely to arrive since all are underage. With the club having held their passports since their arrival, the boys rarely leave the stadium where they both live and train twice a day.

Some of those who have returned to Liberia have told the BBC they were poorly fed, rarely paid and received no medical assistance from the club despite contracting malaria and typhoid because of the conditions. One also described their existence at Champasak United as akin to "slave work".

One 14-year-old player, Liberia's Kesselly Kamara, says he was forced into signing a six-year deal before playing for the senior team. His contract promised him a salary and accommodation, but Kamara says he was never paid and had to sleep on the floor of the club's stadium. "It was very bad because you can't have 30 people sleeping in one room," Kamara told theBBC. “It's hard to live in a place with no windows. It made sleeping very difficult, because you are thinking about your life," said Kamara. 

The "IDSEA Champasak Asia African Football Academy" is “a fictitious academy, which was never legally established," said Liberian journalist and sports promoter Wleh Bedell "It's an 'academy' that has no coach nor doctor.”

The BBC understands there are five more minors from Liberia at the club. Along with eight senior players (six Liberians, a Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean), all are living in conditions described as "deplorable and disturbing" by Bedell. For five months, they have been sleeping on meagre mattresses in a vast room that lacks any glass on its windows and a lock on the door.

One NGO, Culture Foot Solidaire, estimates that 15,000 teenage footballers are moved out of West Africa every year - many of them illegally.

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