When one thinks of the “slave trading of young footballers” or as it nicely called “child trafficking in football”, I am reminded of what the great Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who also happened to be an anti-fascist poet, wrote about fútbol in general when he said, “Soccer is popular because stupidity is popular.” And although I do not agree with the great writer in calling football “aesthetically ugly”, I can observe that he was talking more than about football as the “beautiful game”. The Argentine poet, who was also naively anti-communist and who even with his intellectual limitations was able to denounce the romanticized mythology of modern football, as Shaj Mathew would explain in the following way:
But Borges’ distaste for the sport stemmed from something far more troubling than aesthetics. His problem was with soccer fan culture, which he linked to the kind of blind popular support that propped up the leaders of the twentieth century’s most horrifying political movements. In his lifetime, he saw elements of fascism, Peronism, and even anti-Semitism emerge in the Argentinean political sphere, so his intense suspicion of popular political movements and mass culture—the apogee of which, in Argentina, is soccer—makes a lot of sense. (“There is an idea of supremacy, of power, [in soccer] that seems horrible to me,” he once wrote.) Borges opposed dogmatism in any shape or form, so he was naturally suspicious of his countrymen’s unqualified devotion to any doctrine or religion—even to their dear albiceleste.
It is important to note the Argentine poet’s certain distaste for modern fútbol, as it is a sport that contains dangerous class, bombastic nationalistic and racial disparities that effect even young boys under the age of eighteen. It is the most telling in Africa, where thousands of young African boys with their innocent dreams of playing for a major European football team can be dashed once they are on the streets of a European capital, after they are abandoned by fraudulent football agents. There are only a few exceptions of young boys who are actually able to live this dream, like Messi for instance, who as noted by the Guardian writer Sid Lowe “On Sunday, 17 September 2000, Gaggioli was waiting for Messi at El Prat airport in Barcelona. Messi, aged 13, was flying across the Atlantic with his father, Jorge, and Fabián Soldini, the player’s agent and Gaggioli’s partner. Together with Josep Maria Minguella, they had arranged for Messi to have a trial at Barcelona.” Messi was brought to Barcelona legally, and with the presence of his father. While thousands of other young footballers are trafficked to Europe alone without parental or legal guidance. Thus the luster of the child prodigy Messi is more complex and far less romantic within the realm of capitalistic exploitation in the sport of football. We know that now in 2022, at Qatar, Lionel Messi would with the Argentine team win the FIFA World Cup on penalty kicks, something of a whimper not lost on those who would have preferred a win with an artistic shot on goal. But what about those young trafficked footballers who will never see a world cup pitch? How will they have endured without football fame and monetary success?
A VICE journalist wrote, “The men [boys] were given food only once a day. French police raided the house twice and took those without valid visas away; Kabore heard that they were eventually deported.” The contrast between those footballers like the wealthy Messi and the tragic lives of the young African footballers whose lives are lost and displaced in Europe is a cesspool of contradictions. The modern dialectic of football is a mirror of the degradation of Western civilization.
We live in the early years of the 21st century when universal creativity has been destroyed not only in art and literature but on the football pitches as well. The capitalist system from Qatar to Europe, from the United States down to the great countries of South America, are awash with egotistic footballers and manipulative oligarchs who own the major football teams—when it is millions of dollars and the worship of inflated egos like Messi’s and others like him who control the narrative of international football. Then, we must now ask what about the hidden destruction to those young football players who come out of the villages and townships of Africa and in some cases out of the city barrios of South American capitals, what is their fate? According to the online news reportage VICE “Every year, more than 6,000 young African footballers arrive in Europe in the hope of securing a contract and launching a professional career. The above figures, released by France-based charity Foot Solidaire, are only a fraction of Africa’s total number of footballing emigrants if we take into account those travelling to other parts of the world for the same purpose”. What the numbers indicate, which is more than actually recorded, is the raw exposure of those young boys, who find their way to Europe only to be left with nothing in their lives but the streets of Europe.
It is not unusual for fraud to take place in the trafficking of child footballers, and it is the parents of these youths who pay the literal price of finding funds to pay the so-called football agent who has given his word about their son being chosen to try out for a professional football team. According to one registered FIFA agent, Bassirou Sakho, “Most parents of these young boys are illiterate and therefore cannot easily do the necessary research,” he says. “If the names of affiliated agents are available on the FAs websites it would help the families check and see whether the person coming after their boy is authentic or not. But what I would like to say to parents is never give any money to an agent. Agents get paid when the player signs a contract and not before.” What the agent does not concede is that many of these parents have very little education or none at all, therefore their access to computers remains almost negligible. Without even rudimentary education for the young footballers and their parents, then how would they even be able to know the fraudulent behavior of the so-called agents?
However, it is not only the marauding trafficking agents that are looking for
young footballers in Africa to prey on, the professional clubs are also involved in such hideous acts. According to a scholarly paper written by James Esson “…several prominent professional football clubs, such as FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, and Real Madrid FC, sanctioned for breaking the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’ (FIFA) regulations concerning the international recruitment of minors (players under the age of 18). In a particularly high-profile case, Manchester City FC were accused of trafficking a young player from South America. The Argentinian side Vélez Sarsfield made a formal complaint over Manchester City’s recruitment of 15-year-old Benjamín Garré (Rumsby, 2016). In an interview on this issue Raul Gámez, Vélez’s president, stated: “Never have I experienced such an immoral act”
The abusive actions by such professional football teams that the scholar, Esson mentions in his essay is more than about an “immoral act”, it is an act of class and economic exploitation. Modern football is an industry not too dissimilar from the military industrial complex, where humans are used for fodder on the pitch just as a division can be used for cannon fodder on the pitch.
As history will prove, the great French forward, Kylian Mbappé and multi-millionaire Messi will ultimately be the exceptions. None of those young footballers from the shanty towns of Buenos Aires or the villages of Senegal and Central Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the poor sections of cities in Tunisia, Morocco or even Egypt will know the luster of fame and economic success. Even in the Middle East where oligarchs and oil magistrates reign over the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, those young footballers who thought they would escape their poverty, because they and their parents were conned into paying for an air fare to a declining Europe, where they dreamed they would find football greatness---there in dismal hotels, where they will be forced to leave because they cannot pay the price of a hotel room in which their football comrades are crowded, there they will find themselves thrown out into the streets of Europe.
Luis Lázaro Tijerina, December 2022
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