Mission launched to stamp out African 'slave trade'

Child trafficking is the darkest and most sinister side of the beautiful game but a small step has been taken to eradicate a cancer that is gnawing at the very fabric of human decency.

Refugees from impoverished areas in Africa are understood to be systematically becoming victim of the modern-day slave trade run by traffickers who pose as football agents.

They allegedly prey on vulnerable children's dreams with false promises of careers in Europe.

What usually happens is such 'agents' lure young players away from their homeland and trick them into going to Europe with fake passports for football trials that simply do not exist.

The traffickers take the children's money and abandon them once they get to Europe.

Penniless, stateless and hopeless, their dreams of playing on the big stages in Madrid, London, Berlin, Paris or Rome quickly become a nightmare.

Many reportedly end up in slavery or vanish off the radar completely.

Mission 89, a Swiss-based non-government organisation set up to combat child trafficking in sport, estimates that up to a 1000 children a year are duped into going to Europe for non-existent football trials.

It recently made a representation at the European Parliament in Brussels along with other stakeholders and the meeting pledged to place trafficking in sport on Europe's political agenda.

Participants agreed to actively pursue concrete measures to combat and ultimately eradicate trafficking in sport.

One of the main problems the organisation faces is a lack of education on the part of children and their parents who very often do not know who they are dealing with.

FIFA, who prohibit the movement abroad of under-18 players with three exceptions, and the six confederations have been urged to register and regulate player agents, youth training camps and coaching schools.

Moves are also afoot to launch educational campaigns through social media to stop this cruel exploitation of youth.

Some European clubs are reluctant to let academic experts speak to their young African players to better understand the modus operandi of the traffickers.

Matthew Hall, a prominent Australian sports journalist, is co-founder and spokesman of the organisation.

"The exploitation of children is a grave violation of human rights," Hall said.

"Fake football agents using fake promises to recruit young men into an underworld of illegal immigration and crime is a concern for all of us. Football should not be a platform to exploit vulnerable people.

"Mission 89 is not interested in a blame game. Instead, we want to help individuals and organisations with the authority, resources and power to address this issue head on. We want to stamp this out.

"Trafficking in football is a complex issue but the professional players across Europe have the power to make a big difference."

This is no doubt a huge challenge and it would be nice and proper if high-profile stars of African origin speak out on the correct career paths would-be professional players should take.

Australian football does not offer the glamour, stature and riches of Europe but what if the A-League and the Australian lifestyle become a target of such unscrupulous merchants of malice?

It's highly unlikely but Football Federation Australia are believed to be prepared for such a scenario as long as they follow FIFA guidelines.

FIFA also have a minor player application guide that provides three categories of implied exceptions to the prohibition on the international transfer of minor players.

They are: (a) Minors registering for the first time to play football and who have lived continuously for five years on the territory of the member association in which they are attempting to register, (b) in limited circumstances, minors participating in an exchange program on the territory of another member association or (c) minors are unaccompanied refugees.

The rules and exceptions apply to all member associations, regardless of the potential risk profile of that association.

Based on the football landscape in Australia and our geographical location, most minor player applications in Australia made to the FIFA Players Status Committee tend to rely on the set rules or the implied exceptions regarding a minor participating in an exchange program or where the minor is a refugee or relocates for humanitarian reasons.