Soccer is frequently called “the beautiful game,” but in truth, the world’s most popular sport can be quite ugly. Take, for instance, the trafficking of African children to Southeast Asia to play professionally.
A recent BBC report identified that children as young as 14 years old were being sent to Laos and forced to sign contracts. They also found at least six such minors who are currently playing for Champasak United, a soccer club from Pakse, Laos.
The investigation links the trafficking to the IDSEA Champasak Asia African Football Academy. According to the BBC, at least 23 young Liberian footballers were convinced to travel to Laos at the invitation of Alex Karmo, a footballer who was a member of the Liberian national team and currently plays for Vietnamese club Vinakansai Vissai.
The only problem, according to Liberian journalist Wleh Bedell? It’s not a legitimate academy.
“It’s a fictitious academy, which was never legally established. It’s an ‘academy’ that has no coach nor doctor. Karmo was the coach, the business manager, everything. It was completely absurd,” Bedell told the BBC.
There’s also the fact that FIFA prohibits the transfer or movement of players to foreign countries if they are under the age of 18.
It’s not just the BBC investigating this story. FIFPro, a global soccer players representative organization, has been investigating Champasak United and has filed a complaint with FIFA. FIFPro’s work pressured the club to release 17 players. Those that stayed, according to FIFPro, are living in horrid conditions, sleeping on the floors of the stadium.
FIFA told the BBC that it is currently investigating the complaint.
This by no means is an isolated incident. Culture Foot Solidaire, a non-governmental organization, believes that as many as 15,000 underage soccer players are trafficked out of West Africa every year.