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“Never have I experienced such an immoral act”: Challenging popular representations of child trafficking in football

When Manchester City recruited 15-year-old Benjamín Garré from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield, club president Raul Gámez did not hold back: “Never have I experienced such an immoral act”.

Garré joined City from Vélez Sarsfield just after his 16th birthday in 2016. Fifa dismissed an initial complaint from Vélez regarding the move and claimed the Manchester club broke transfer regulations by signing him when he turned 16.

FIFA ruled Garré’s Italian passport meant he was free to join Citty but Velez took their case to Cas, arguing Fifa had broken their own rules. CAS dismissed the appeal and cleared City of breaking any rules.

The complicated story is highlighted by James Esson of Loughborough University and Eleanor Drywood from the University of Liverpool in their paper “Challenging popular representations of child trafficking in football”.

Esson and Drywood take a deep dive into how football and “trafficking” are entwined and explore how much current thinking about the issue makes finding realistic solutions challenging.

“In some cases, after handing over money to some individual/individuals, the player does indeed obtain a contract or trial with a club, albeit of an exploitative nature,” they write. “This is what is known as ‘human trafficking in football’. However, in most cases, the alleged interest from a foreign club is bogus, and the individual(s) abandon the player upon arrival in a destination country. This is known as ‘human trafficking through football’.

“Human trafficking in football and human trafficking through football are often conflated under the term ‘football trafficking’. It is important to note that while cases of human trafficking in football comply with understandings of human trafficking as outlined in the UN Protocol on human trafficking there are some who question whether this applies to cases of human trafficking through football. This is because of uncertainty as to whether exploitation has actually occurred if the player is abandoned upon arrival. In other words, is this a case of fraud rather than human trafficking?”

You can read the paper, “Challenging Popular Representations of Child Trafficking in Football”, published in the Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, 4(1), pp. 60-72. in full by clicking this link.

Esson and Drywood argue that football and children’s rights need to be looked at in their  local and cultural context and that “until the debate around the children’s rights implications of a career in football becomes more developed, our thinking around solutions to the trafficking practices which provide the backdrop to success stories will remain stilted.”

There is a “need for all actors in and around football trafficking to collaborate on solutions,” they argue.  

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