BBC Exposes Trafficking Of Underage African Footballers To Asia

Zohaib Ahmed
Football harbors a form of slavery that not many know about.

Young football players from Africa are being smuggled into Asia and forced to sign contracts, according to BBC reports.

FIFA rules strictly prohibit footballers under 18 from being eligible to move abroad to seek a professional football career. But the BBC's report says it has identified at least six under-18 players in the squad of Laos club Champasak United.

It further alleges that the club imported 23 minors earlier this year from West African countries and enrolled them in one of their unregistered football academies.

"FIFA is in contact with several member associations in order to gather all information to assess the matter and safeguard the interests of the minors," a FIFA representative told the press following the report.

Champasak United rejects accusations that the club recruits these underage players just to sell them for huge profits once they grow up, effectively making it human trafficking.

To make things even worse, these young footballers – who are pitted against full grown men despite being as young as 14 – are forced to sign long term deals without any monetary compensation or proper accommodation.

Liberian striker Kesselly Kamara says he was forced into signing a six-year deal by Champasak United but never got paid. As a result, he had to sleep on the floor of the club's stadium.

Kesselly Kamara

"It was very bad because you can't have 30 people sleeping in one room," said Kamara, who has now moved back to Liberia. "It's hard to live in a place with no windows. It made sleeping very difficult, because you are thinking about your life." 

The alleged mastermind of the entire operation is former Liberian international Alex Karmo who lures young Liberian talent to Laos with promises of proper training facilities, diet and coaches. But on their arrival at the club, Kamara and company found no such things and had their passports confiscated so they couldn't even go out on their own in the communist-ruled country.

"It's an 'academy' that has no coach nor doctor. Karmo was the coach, the business manager, everything. It was completely absurd," said Liberian journalist and sports promoter Wleh Bedell, who has been to Laos.

Football is the by far the most popular sport in many African countries and youth there see it as a way out and a better life. While Champasak United is just one club, NGO Culture Foot Solidaire claims that around 15,000 African teenagers are illegally trafficked by agents and managers to clubs across the world. They are forced to live a deplorable life of slavery and sold to the highest bidder when their talent blossoms fully.

FIFPro, the international players' body, has taken up the issue but it's time that FIFA follows suit and rids the Beautiful Game of its ugly side.