According to recent estimates, more than 15,000 minors are trafficked into Europe every year as part of a growing phenomenon of football player migration and trafficking, says Ini-Obong Nkang, a doctoral researcher in Sports Law at Nottingham Trent University.
Young players, mostly from Africa and South America, are enticed by illegal football agents to move abroad on empty promises of trials at high-ranking European clubs. As a result, thousands of young boys find themselves abandoned in Europe by fake agents who leave once they receive a huge amount of money from young players and their impoverished families. This leaves many young people on the streets, sexually exploited, abused, or even part of drug-dealing networks. But this isn’t the only way young football players are exploited; according to Nkang, players are financially controlled by their agents, and their mobility is hindered through binding, unethical contracts.
Nkang’s doctoral research analyses the trafficking of minors from West Africa due to a precarious economic context in which young boys dream of attaining an improved financial status through football. The lack of consistent, protective international regulations towards players in developing countries, and an expanding transfer market wherein top football clubs achieve large, long-term profits, led to the perpetuation of this ‘modern-day slave trade’.
Moreover, in comparison to young foreign players, when minors coming from EU countries are transferred they are subject to different regulatory obligations which are in line with FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, these include education and academic provisions and certain living standards. Currently, foreign minors are not protected by the same kind of regulations as their European peers. Additionally, Nkang points to the role that clubs may have in the trafficking processes as they ‘do not query the origin of a player who comes for trials, or probe the relationship between a player and an agent’.
The doctoral research provides a series of approaches in order to tackle football trafficking, including the improvement of African football leagues and the safeguarding of minors outside the EU. These comprehensive approaches would not only make young players less vulnerable to the trafficking methods used by fake agents, but would also envision football as a development channel in African societies.