Human Traffic – Africa’s Lost Boys

africa_children_football

It has been a starting point for some of the world’s top soccer players.

As youngsters, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka all played in the Mondial Montaigu youth tournament in France.

Known as “Mondial Minimes,” the 40-year-old competition is contested by under-16 national teams over Easter, with an event also held for club sides.

Leading French clubs Lorient, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, Montpellier and St Etienne are all involved this year alongside another lesser-known name — Foot Solidaire.

Its a team that will showcase the very best of Africa’s talent, but which also aims to open young African players’ eyes to the risks of seeking their fortunes in Europe’s top leagues.

The team has been put together by Culture Foot Solidaire (CFS) — a Paris-based charity which campaigns against the dangers of the trafficking of young players by unscrupulous individuals; be they former players, businessmen, lawyers or unlicensed agents.

European clubs generally regard African players as athletically and technically gifted. Arguably just as importantly, they are relatively cheap to develop, with the added potential that clubs can make a large profit if they are sold in the future.

For the players, the idea of becoming of a professional footballer in Europe holds the promise of a better life for themselves abroad and their families back home — if they are not discarded by clubs and left to fend for themselves.

Often they have been brought to Europe on an illegal passport, frequently taken first to eastern Europe, where it is easier to arrange a visa before moving them on to Western countries.

Mbvoumin estimates each year as many as 700 youngsters leave Cameroon alone to seek a professional career.

But if the club doesn’t sign the player the youngster is left to his own devices as to how he returns to Africa.

“To bring young players to this tournament is a very good experience for them,” the 39-year-old Mbvoumin, who played for a number of lower league French clubs, told CNN, as he explained the reason behind entering in the Montaigu tournament.

“Very few can become professionals and our goal is to explain how hard to become is to do so. It’s important to dream, but they must realize how few players there are in the professional world.”

Foot Solidaire’s team for this year’s Montaigu tournament is made up from players from Cameroon. More than 500 players have been assessed since January, before their 25-man squad was selected.

Those players, who have been preparing for the tournament at a training camp in Nantes, came from as many as 100 training centers in Cameroon, which have all signed up to CFS’s objectives to protect the young players who are being trained.

Its charter is designed to provide the players with the best possible training environment, and it recognizes world governing body FIFA’s regulations as well as the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.

Mbvoumin estimates CFS is working with as many as 2,500 players — this on a miniscule budget of just over $100,000.

“We don’t have salaries and we rely on volunteers,” he said. “We have a very important network of partners and we rely on very small donations. But we need help — our organization has been in existence for 13 years.

“Football can just be business, business and money, money. People forget about education and the protection of young players — football should not be above the law.”

Sabo was trafficked to Africa as teenager after he and his family were promised “riches beyond their imagination,” before he was abandoned in Paris.

“Ndomo has been a bit off the radar for the last few weeks,” said Sam Potter, managing director and chief executive officer of Masnomis, the production company behind the film.

“But following a series of injury setbacks he and (Spanish club) Deportivo La Coruna — where he eventually signed in 2010 — agreed to terminate his contract last year.

“He is still signed up with Octagon sports agency and they are hopeful of finding him another club in Europe for next season.”

Potter said Mbvoumin and CFS ” work tirelessly on a shoestring budget to provide support and education to vulnerable and exploited young African footballers”, despite a lack of interest and funding from the wider football community.

Read John Sinnott’s entire article here on CNN.

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