{mosimage} 2 July ~ When Ghana meet Uruguay in the quarter-finals of the World Cup tonight they will see role models in the fullest sense. Despite prohibitive odds, many young men consider their best chance of escaping poverty as following in the footsteps of Didier Drogba and Michael Essien. So it is that thousands of unlicensed football academies have been set up in Ivory Coast and Ghana over the last decade.

Those in charge promise expert coaching, transport to Europe and arranged trials with elite professional clubs; local parents often reason that the fees are worth the sacrifice and take their sons out of school. In reality few “academy” players will ever leave Africa and those that do will be travelling illegally with negligible prospect of professional football.

An overwhelming majority of academy operatives have no serious credentials. They cannot prepare their apprentices adequately or fulfil promises of trials with AC Milan and Paris St Germain. The crisis is compounded by unscrupulous agents and clubs, who take promising youngsters to Europe with no serious safety net in the (highly likely) event of their not making the grade.

The effects of the trafficking are evident to charities across West Africa and Europe. Foot Solidaire, a small Paris-based NGO, sees hundreds of abandoned would-be footballers in the French capital alone. In 2008 a BBC special report highlighted a typical trafficking story: the family of a 13-year-old Cameroonian paid €750 (£617) to an agent, travelled to Lyon and were abandoned on arrival. The previous year a leaking fishing trawler was beached in Tenerife containing 130 young African men suffering hypothermia and dehydration, among them footballers trying to reach Real Madrid.

FIFA promises it is “working hard” to address the issue. President Sepp Blatter has decried the trade in African teen footballers as “social and economic rape” and action has been promised under their Win in Africa with Africa initiative, which aims to position the World Cup as a force for good on the continent.

Unfortunately FIFA’s corporate responsibility record is dismal with football trafficking no exception. Charities lobby in hope rather than expectation and counter-measures are few.

Foot Solidaire recently lamented in an open letter “ten years of hypocrisy, immobility and what may seem to be discrimination towards us”. They want to disseminate information across West Africa on the dangers of illegal academies but cannot get FIFA support for an annual €200,000 budget. They believe that the governing body discriminates against African groups in its funding, making a mockery of Win in Africa with Africa.

Certainly FIFA is not short of money for its preferred projects and partners. They opened the World Cup with an announcement of US$196m (£129m) annual profit and $1bn equity. Yet one month ago a report by South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies showed that the nation’s poorest might end up worse off as a result of the World Cup.

This ongoing crisis gives pause for thought ahead of tonight’s game. The limitations of our rankings are clear. Ghanaian success would doubtless feed the cycle of exploitation that blights football in West Africa. Foot Solidaire fears an increase in trafficking after the tournament. Peter May

The author writes for Who should I cheer for?, a website that ranks the countries in the World Cup based on social justice indicators

Comments (2)
Comment by liamthebulgar 2010-07-02 21:18:37

So dishonesty, corruption and criminality in Africa are now FIFA's responsibilty? Is the writer of this piece seiously suggesting that the incidents cited are the worst examples of human trafficking? Or that trafficking of aspiring footballers is somehow the worst sin being commited by unscrupulous Africans?
At least he doesnt try to pin the crimes on non-Africans - unusual in a piece such as this. Of course that still leaves us Europeans to shoulder the blame apparently.
Maybe we should just claim that the the devil made us do it?

Comment by Jongudmund 2010-07-05 12:58:15

I don't think that's what he's trying to say, Liam. Just that Fifa aren't tackling it the way they, say, forbid people from going in to football stadia wearing clothes that feature a different kind of beer than Budweiser.

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