by Mel Paramasivan | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 09:32 GMT

 

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LONDON, Sept 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Floodlit stadiums, adoring fans and huge salaries – following in the footsteps of transfer-record breaking football superstars such as Neymar and Kylian Mbappé and playing for one of Europe's leading clubs is the dream of every young player worldwide.

But beneath the big money headlines is an underbelly of exploitation of youngsters from developing nations, experts say.

Countless boys in West Africa enrol in football academies, giving up on an education and splashing the family savings in their quest to establish a career at one of Europe's top teams.

Yet many of them are duped, taken abroad and dumped by unscrupulous men posing as agents, according to activists.

Tom Vernon, founder of Right to Dream (RTD) football academy in Ghana and owner of Danish Superliga club FC Nordsjælland, is striving to end such exploitation by offering a safe route for young African footballers with dreams of making it in Europe.

Education is key - in terms of both studying and learning about the potential pitfalls of going abroad too soon, he said.

"It's a constant battle to stop people exploiting kids," Vernon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.

"Without parental support or an educational base, a young player is basically going to get eaten alive, and that still happens on a regular basis," the former football scout added.

Earlier this year, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that two Italian clubs were under investigation for using faked documents to allow West African minors to enter Italy illegally.

These children are among the some 15,000 young players moved from West Africa each year under false pretences, estimates the charity Foot Solidaire, but a lack of monitoring means the number being trafficked abroad could be far higher, experts say.

Yet exploitation of young players is a worldwide problem.

Reports have emerged in recent years of Liberian boys being trafficked to an academy in Laos and trapped there in debt bondage, and Brazilian teenagers recruited from the Amazon to an academy in Sao Paolo, sleeping four to a mattress in a bedsit.

 

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