The African U20 Nations Cup began on Feb. 19 in Egypt with little fanfare compared to CAF’s senior tournaments.
It is a vital event for most European scouts who descend on Africa en masse to discover the next generations of Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah – no doubt a cheaper option than finding young talent in Europe.
While this seems a regular occurrence under the FIFA umbrella for age-group tournaments, there is a disturbing trend of young African footballers being trafficked into Europe by unscrupulous agents who promise the proverbial world to star-struck teens and their cash-strapped families.
Even the beautiful game is not immune to society’s ills, as young footballers from Africa eventually add to the ever-growing migrant problem in Europe.
Africa is a fertile breeding ground
Before we question their gullibility, one must understand the situation. Most of these players are born into grinding poverty, and even if they have a one-in-a-million chance to escape, they will gladly risk it all. Enter these opportunistic agents.
They prey on the insecurities and willingly take money from these impoverished families to ensure their child makes it to the bright lights of Europe.
Given these enormous figures bandied about, it is understandable why families are willing to risk their life savings to chase the dream with their offspring.
However, in most instances. it is just fool’s gold, often with disastrous consequences. These young boys are stuck in squalor in a foreign country with few options. Rather than return home in shame, they stay on doing almost anything to chase this impossible dream.
Is there a remedy for this exploitation?
As long as poverty is rife in Africa, such practices will continue unabated. FIFA must also be brought to book for its complicity in allowing bogus agents to operate with impunity.
As the governing body for football globally, it needs to take the lead in implementing a system of accreditation for agents to eradicate the scores of hucksters. This will provide families with a set of guidelines when negotiating with some of these snake-oil salesmen.
FIFA should also liaise with the criminal justice system to ensure that fake agents are dealt with, with the full might of the law. Such regulations will go a long way in curbing the growth of these criminal enterprises, saving many young footballers from their clutches.
To protect its credibility, FIFA has to be more proactive in stemming the growth of human trafficking through the guise of football.
One hopes that the governing body will show the same zeal and determination it did when tackling racism in football.
Both are equally abhorrent but the displacement of young, starry-eyed teens through a preventable system of exploitation, must be called out.
FIFA, as the political and economic arbiter of all things football, should also have a moral conscience.