Mission 89 UNGA Event Mobilizes Global Stakeholders to Tackle Trafficking in Sports

Mission 89 UNGA Event Mobilizes Global Stakeholders to Tackle Trafficking in Sports

Mission 89 UNGA Event Mobilizes Global Stakeholders to Tackle Trafficking in Sports

In a high-profile event held at the 78th edition of the United Nations General Assembly, key stakeholders, dignitaries, and passionate advocates from around the world gathered to confront the pressing issue of human trafficking in sports. Organised by Mission 89, in collaboration with Generation Amazing Foundation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and UN member states, including Qatar, Gabon and Monaco, the event brought together influential voices to shine a spotlight on the impact of technology in trafficking and explore solutions.

It was a rallying point for collective action to address this grave concern, as speakers emphasised the need for increased cooperation among governments, sports organisations, and civil society, including identifying gaps in current initiatives and crafting innovative solutions to protect athletes from all forms of exploitation, driving momentum towards a future where they can compete with integrity and dignity.

The summit commenced with a heartfelt welcome from Professor Parosha Chandran, an eminent human rights barrister and anti-slavery lawyer. She set the tone by emphasising the severity of the issue: “Sport is about play – that’s how we usually think about sport. Sports can heal when children are harmed, or something goes wrong in a family, or there’s conflict, violent situation, or accident. This meeting is important because we need to start thinking about solutions, and we need to start taking decisive actions”.

Delivering her welcome address, the founder of Mission 89, Lerina Bright, addressed the major imperatives, which include establishing an international multistakeholder group to address the growing prevalence within the sporting world and sharing knowledge, experience and evidence-based research on trafficking among partners to bolster actions.

“This recommendation brings us together again today,” said Lerina Bright. “Our aim is to eradicate child trafficking in sports through social and economic transformation. Since our last gathering at UNGA77, Mission 89 has been tirelessly working to turn the vision into reality, and we continue to carry out this work through three pillars: research, education and advocacy. And always, we do this through partnerships and through consultation”.

A pivotal moment was the revelation of alarming statistics: In 2022 alone, there were approximately 50,000 reported cases of trafficking, with concerns that the actual numbers could be significantly higher. The event underscored that the sports industry, while a source of joy and inspiration, is not immune to exploitation and trafficking, especially affecting vulnerable children in Africa. Ambassador Isabelle Picco, the Permanent Representative of Monaco to the United Nations, expressed her deep concern: “These figures are staggering, and we must acknowledge that they represent just the tip of the iceberg. The actual number of victims is likely far higher.”

Addressing the event, the President, Fédération Camerounaise de Football, Samuel Eto’o Fils said, “Footballers, in fact, African footballers play today on pitches globally, and there have never been so many of them. It’s an incredible talent pool in which all European clubs come to recruit competitively, legally or not. But the perilous journey of the migrant sportsman does not always result in a professional footballer’s contract. In countries less respectful of human rights, these players are arrested and treated like cattle.  If we manage to stop this, we will be doing a great service to the African continent, which needs its youth to develop.”

During the panel sessions, participants urged immediate action and collaboration among governments, sports organisations, and civil society to combat human trafficking in sports. Samuel Eto’o urged, “We need more rules that are respected everywhere. We often look to the men in soccer, but women are the most exposed. It’s our women, and I think that soccer governing bodies need to be much more vigorous in enforcing laws and tests”. Speakers at the event shared their valuable insights into potential solutions, as Nasser Al Khori, Executive Director, Generation Amazing Foundation stated, “We must prioritise education, protect and empower young people that are most at risk. Governing bodies must implement policies against human trafficking, and Generation Amazing remains steadfast and ready to work with global partners to harness the transformative power of sports for social good”.

Furthermore, it was announced that efforts would be made to introduce bi-annual resolutions and submissions of information to the United Nations, aiming to strengthen global efforts to combat human trafficking in sports. Ambassador Picco stated, “Next year, I strongly encourage all delegations to bring attention to this issue in the General Assembly. We need to use stronger language and foster cooperation with specialised agencies within the UN system to enhance our response.”

The event concluded with a compelling call to unite and take resolute actions to eradicate this grave issue from the sports industry. Professor Chandran encapsulated the sentiment: “Together, we can change the status quo. It is high time for concrete action to protect the rights and dignity of young athletes around the world.”

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