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The Dark Side of Soccer: False Promises and Human Trafficking

By now it’s clear: Ansu Fati is a soccer wunderkind. The 16-year-old star traveled to Europe from Guinea-Bissau to attend the Sevilla FC Soccer Academy when he was only 8 years old. It’s a common story—thousands of African and South American children travel to Europe each year seeking a better life: A life in soccer. But Fati is one of the lucky ones.

Recent studies have shown that more than 15,000 children with soccer aspirations are trafficked into Europe every year. For every Ansu Fati, thousands are victims of predatory agents and ill-intentioned individuals. The fates that await these children are cruel ones—slavery, sexual exploitation, and drug dealing. Sadly, prostitution in soccer is nothing new. Last year, individuals affiliated with Argentine clubs River Plate and Independiente were found guilty of running a prostitution ring.

As a result of a 1995 legal case, transfer fees for out-of-contract E.U. nationals were abolished, meaning that clubs could lose E.U. players without receiving a transfer fee. This led to a loss in revenue and soccer teams started turning to young Africans and South Americans to find talented players at bargain prices and flipping them for a profit.

FIFA offers little to no protection for minors. Soccer clubs and agents are complicit in human trafficking and creating a modern-day slave trade. Ini-Obong Nkang believes progress may be achieved by improving the standard of African leagues and creating better safeguards for non-E.U. minors. One thing is clear: Authorities and clubs have to do more to protect the most vulnerable.

Illustration by @tammyrinkwest

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