Blocking hoops dreams

Blocking hoops dreams

Daniele Canepa

For many young athletes in love with the game of basketball, an interaction with NBA greats like Michael Jordan or Lebron James would be a dream come true.

Even better would be a chance to play in the NBA league, the world’s most competitive and lucrative basketball league.

That destination would often start with a search and offer of a high school sport scholarship to the U.S for many young African athletes. If they are from an under-served underprivileged background that would be a great shot at lifting their entire family out of poverty, a shot they’ll work hard to ensure is not blocked.

This ‘golden opportunity’ however has a dark sinister side. Unscrupulous ‘agents/coaches’ use the lure of a future in basketball to traffick young athletes chasing hoops dreams.

Some athletes who fall prey to this scam end up living in school gymnasiums with others who share their plight. In some instances their travel and identity documents get confiscated. Others may even be trafficked for sex or labour, their dreams preyed on and stolen.

University of Texas at Austin PhD candidate, Javier Wallace, researches issues surrounding race, class, gender, labour migration, nationality and trans-nationalism of athletes from the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.

He has been following the abuse of F1 student visas and speaking up, asking U.S immigration authorities to check the abuse of the F1 student visa. So far his calls have gone unheeded.


How long has child trafficking in basketball been going on in the United States?

There is a limited set of information available to the public for how long irregular migration practices have been going on in the field of U.S. basketball. It may have started 15-20 years ago, with this answer being an educated guess based on the news sources that we have and how long the sport has been a global phenomenon.

 Young people from developing countries look to developed countries like the U.S for a shot at a better quality of life or even the chance to play or practice where the leagues and athletic circuits are a developed and expanding.Which countries do the minors involved do usually come from?

 Minors are from many parts of the world, probably more situated in the so-called less developed world. They could be from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and even certain regions in Europe, but until we have more information we cannot know exactly. About the size of this issue, unfortunately we do not as yet have any accurate figures available.

 Are there any similarities between child trafficking in soccer and in U.S. basketball?

The question cannot be answered entirely at this stage because unlike soccer, where we have more academic research about unregulated migration so we know where benefits lie, in U.S. basketball we have limited knowledge of who is benefiting from this exploitation.

It’s quite clear that research and further investigation into the issue should take priority if we want to understand where the financial gain is located, what minors aspire to find in America and how the decision to come to the U.S. is made. There could also be other reasons than money – personal prestige and enhanced career opportunities for example – but at the moment we cannot know for sure.

Clearly, this issue is not for just one authority or organisation to solve, it requires the effort of all involved in migration, player recruitment, regulation. Have you liaised with any authorities (the NBA, immigration offices, etc.) who want to end this problem?

 I have not liaised with authorities on the issue, but I have experience navigating different social services in the U.S. that provide assistance to individuals in the country with unstable migratory statuses.

 With the NBA and FIBA planning to start a pro league in Africa, what in your view will be a major step towards ensuring aspiring basketball players are not taken advantage of or trafficked?

I believe that the NBA, FIBA and other actors involved in the project could fund/support projects and research that can seek to better understand sport labour migration and all of it’s complexities. This could provide them with a league that does not further exacerbate a potential problem.

If you or anyone you know is looking to accept any kind of sport scholarship, Javier Wallace has a practical advice.