Football chiefs to tackle hidden trade in Africa's children

The scandal of trafficking young boys from Africa to Europe with the lure of fame and fortune as a football star is to be targeted in a new clampdown, The Independent has learnt. The move will throw a spotlight on the recruitment practices of clubs in England and on the continent.

The ultimate dream of many young African boys is to emulate heroes such as Chelsea's Didier Drogba or Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o, from the Ivory Coast and Cameroon respectively.

Yet European clubs stand accused of not asking questions about the provenance of young African footballers brought to trials by unscrupulous middlemen.

Twenty-seven European football leagues are set to sign a convention promising to eradicate child trafficking on their turf. Richard Caborn, Gordon Brown's sports ambassador, will tell a conference of football fans at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in London today that action is finally being taken to end the trade.

The world football governing body, Fifa, bans transfers of players under the age of 16. EU laws stipulate that players must hold a work permit before they arrive. But Belgium, France, Spain and the Netherlands have been accused of applying the rules less stringently for youths from their former colonies. Once African players become established in such countries they can be sold for huge sums to clubs in England's Premier League.

Sepp Blatter, the head of Fifa, has accused Europe's richest clubs of "despicable" behaviour and being engaged in the "social and economic rape" of Africa.

Moussa Ndiaye, of the Senegalese Football Association, said: "The boys are cheap compared to European players. It is always worth sending 100 – the agent can make money from the one or two who make it. The other 98 are forgotten."

William Gaillard, communications director of Uefa, European football's governing body, described the practice as "youth trafficking". "They are being brought over at a very young age and basically dumped in the streets if they don't make it," he said.

The majority of the boys trafficked into Europe from the slums of Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and the Ivory Coast – many of whose parents have paid thousands of pounds to the middleman for the journey – are simply discarded without explanation.

Jean-Marie Dedecker, a senator in the Belgian parliament, received death threats after he investigated 442 cases of illegal trade involving Nigerian players in Belgium. "I was warned that if I went to Nigeria to investigate this I would be killed," he said.

He blamed football's administrators and politicians for turning a blind eye to the trafficking. "Everyone is involved, agents, clubs – even politicians who don't want to criticise football as they sit in hospitality boxes at games," he said. "Nobody is interested in tackling the problem." The crackdown aims to end such thinking.

"We need to make sure this trade is stamped out," said Mr Caborn. "We do not want football to be tarnished by this kind of activity." The former sports minister is drawing up a convention to be signed by 27 leagues in the autumn, laying down guidelines to end the trafficking of African boys in European football. The Football, Social and Economic Forum, which he chairs, working with the Association of the European Professional Football Leagues, will use evidence from investigations into the trade.

"I want to collate as much information on trafficking and then make sure that we can take effective action," said Mr Caborn. "I will be endeavouring to make sure we can get political backing from member states across Europe and also through international bodies including Unesco and the UN. If you look at what happened with action to stamp out drugs in sport, it was led by sporting bodies but backed by Unesco. We hope to do the same with trafficking."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent