Foul Play: Profit, promises, and semi-criminality
Claims against the Football Migration Industry
Population: approx. 2.3 million
Languages: over 20 national languages; alongside the official language English, Mandinka is the most widely spoken language
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Currently, the European football media is mainly dominated by the profit-greed of the failed Super League and vague protests against the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Slogans like Human Rights or Human rights – On and off the pitch on the tricots of the German and Norwegian national team indicate human rights violations in the host country Qatar.1,2 These slogans refer to the slave-like living and working conditions under which foreign workers construct football stadiums for the upcoming World Cup. Human Rights Watch, in a 2020 report, points out the three main reasons underlying the exploitation: the kafala system, which creates a visa-bondage between employer and working migrant; an unmoral recruitment process that pushes many workers in debt as they have to pay their own recruiting fees; and unpaid or postponed wages.3 While all of those claims against Qatar are right and important, nobody talks about protests against the Football Migration Industry in Europe, which is financially exploiting minor refugees and often leaves them in precarious conditions. For this purpose, we were able to conduct an interview with Almami (name changed), an under 18 refugee from Gambia who has played in the Campionato Primavera, the major league of Italian youth football, for two years. The interview was conducted on the 11th of April and is fully anonymous to protect the insecure asylum status of the interviewed.
Who is playing?
In Italy's major football youth league, players are generally eligible between the ages of 15 and 20.
Who is playing?
In Italy's major football youth league, players are generally eligible between the ages of 15 and 20.
This article poses critical questions at us: How can we as White positioned persons translate the story of a Black person? How can we decry racism while still reproducing structural racism? We have decided, for this specific article and in this specific context, that solidarity may be inconvenient and conflicting. But, it also means using our privileges in order to report the story of Almami who cannot just decide to publish it on his own, as he could be facing severe consequences due to his precarious asylum status.
Good vs. bad migration: The Fortress Europe and its labor market
In a capitalist organized world-economy, this approach makes total sense. Ever since World War Two – and maybe even before that – migrating people are first and foremost seen as human capital: They are supposed to subordinate themselves as cheap labor forces under the European economies as long as they are profitable.4 The German (profit-oriented) developmental agency GIZ has various programs running under the slogan Triple-Win, supporting that reality. In 2016, the GIZ in cooperation with the Moroccan employment agency has started a pilot program that handpicked 110 apprentices for the German hotel industry.7 Another program of the GIZ and the German employment agency is headhunting migrant workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Tunisia for the German care sector.8 Simultaneously, Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Morocco function as Europe´s externalized border. Though this may seem cynical, it perfectly fits into the last two objectives of the European Neighborhood Policy: “security; and migration and mobility”.9
Money and the balls
In 2010, the FIFA already reworked their policy-standards. Since then, international transfers, technically, for players under the age of 18 are prohibited. Of course, there are still exceptions included.13,14 However, the new policy was responding to increasing numbers of irregular football migrants stranding in Europe. The organization Culture Foot Solidaire counted 8.000 irregular football migrants in France in 2010.14 In many cases, European football agents have been picking young talents – especially from West Africa – and make their families pay large sums of up to 5.000€ to bring their sons to the large European football clubs. Some youngsters might even make it to a top team. In those cases, they often face adhesion contracts while the agents earn large sums. The others are dumped by their agents and left in precarious legal situations.14
Annual revenue rate of European top-teams in billions (EUR) from 1996 to 2016.
Source: own Illustration, data from: UEFA (2016): Club Licensing Benchmarking Report Financial Year 2016
In order to avoid the FIFA-rules and continue with the employment of West African minors, their age is often falsified. If they are no longer supported by a powerful football team or their agents, French (and other European) immigration services no longer accept their given age and use racist methods such as bone tests to confirm their age.14 Though these cases are not the same than what happened to our interviewee Almami, the racist-capitalist structures are alike. The ability of the youngsters to act independently (agency) – to make it in one of the European football leagues – is clearly a driving force for emigration in the first case. By arriving in Europe large parts of this agency is taken away from them.
The start of a precarious football career
When Almami arrived in Sicily in 2016, he has made it through the world´s deadliest border: the Aegean Sea.15 He was almost immediately brought to a reception center for minor migrants located in Messina, Sicily. Back in Gambia, he was not even interested in football or dreaming of a professional football career.
Close to the reception center, there was a football ground. Here, Almami started playing for fun with other minors. After some time a man appeared on the playground. That person later became his football agent. One week after his appearance in early 2017 the camp officials accompanied by the then unknown agent, knocked at his door and sent him further to Genoa – the start of his football career. He explains to us how they lured him with having an own room, a TV, and becoming a football player. From that moment onwards, the agent also became his legal supervisor, as he was still under 18. Almami has played in three different teams in the Campionato Primavera – two in Genova and one in Bologna. During that period, he had been living in a talent camp together with youngsters from countries like Canada and Brazil. Though working and training fulltime (two training sessions per day) he never received any payment while playing in the teams. His teammates on the other hand did. So where did his money go?
When he started playing for the team his agent made him sign a contract. He tells us that this was just one signature of many, as he always had to sign for everything back in the reception center (e.g. entering, leaving, receiving food). Later he found out that his agent probably received the money and held it back; it must have been at least 5.000€ per month if not more. Making a total sum of at least 180.000€. Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist, explains the binding of contracts through noncontract conditions like trust and common understanding.16 Almami did not find latter here. Most likely, the agent took advantage of his power position as the legal supervisor of Almami to enrich himself. This recruitment practice is nothing other than a neocolonial legacy. In the imperial era, this racist legal system was called indentured labor: the trade of people from one colony to another to work as unpaid laborers in exchange for food and housing. Now in these days it is obviously to be found the football migration industry.17
From Sicily to Bremen: Illegalizing refugees for the sake of profit
“I no longer exist there.“ Also in the Gambian Embassy in Italy from where he received his passport somehow through his agent, there is no file existing. Back in Sicily, where he was first registered and mysteriously also discovered by the agent, no file exists. When talking to the Gambian officials on the phone, they tell Almami that definitely a passport was issued to him in Italy.
I no longer exist there.
How can it be then that there is no file anywhere in Italy? Not later than here, the criminal energy of the whole football migration industry is no longer blurred, but rather crystal clear. Almami assumes that when he was injured the agent sent him to Bremen to get rid of him. From there on, he could easily change his football profile and continue business as usual:
They make you believe you are a good player but in their own interest. After they are done with you, they throw you away and find someone else.
With Almami being in Germany and knowing of his precarious asylum situation, who would believe his story or care about it? Since then he never heard again form his manager who blocked him on social media.
After all of that happened, Almami is still playing football any time he is unhappy. Besides, he is now using his energy in doing rap music, and after we have heard some of his powerful songs, we are sure this was not the last time we have heard of him.
In collaboration with Almami
- Spiegel Online: Botschaft an Katar – Norwegens Fußballer setzen sich für Menschenrechte ein (24.03.2021), retrieved from https://www.spiegel.de/sport/fussball/wm-qualifikation-norwegens-fussballer-demonstrieren-fuer-menschenrechte-botschaft-an-katar-a-7aa46a49-ed9c-454d-8d03-40c756150522. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- Sportschau, Aust, Dorian: Proteste für Menschenrechte – alles abgesegnet? (30.03.2021), retrieved from https://www.sportschau.de/fussball/nationalmannschaft/menschenrechts-proteste-in-wm-quali-mehren-sich100.html. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- Human Rights Watch: How Can We Work Without Wages? Salary Abuses Facing
Migrant Workers Ahead of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022. Summary.
(24.08.2020), retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/08/24/how-can-we-work-without-wages/salary-abuses-facing-migrant-workers-ahead-qatars. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- Gambino, Ferruccio/Sacchetto, Devi (2009): Die Formen des Mahlstroms. Von den Plantagen zu den Fließbändern. In: van der Linden, Marcel / Roth, Karl-Heinz (Eds.): Über Marx hinaus. Berlin/Hamburg: Assoziation A, pp. 115-153.
- Georgi, Fabian (2019): Kämpfe der Migration im Kontext. Die Krisendynamik des europäischen Grenzregimes seit 2011. In: Wissel, Jens / Keil, Daniel (Eds.): Staatsprojekt Europa. Eine staatstheoretische Perspektive auf die Europäische Union (Reihe Staatsverständnisse, Vol. 137). Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 205-227.
- Bialasiewicz, Luiza (2012). Off-shoring and Out-sourcing the Borders of EUrope: Libya and EU Border Work in the Mediterranean, Geopolitics, 843–866.
- GIZ: Von der Pike auf: Junge Marokkaner lernen im deutschen Hotel- und Gastgewerbe (21.08.2018), retrieved from https://www.giz.de/de/mediathek/68745.html. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- GIZ: Triple Win: Tausendste Pflegekraft nimmt Arbeit in Deutschland auf (31.07.2017), retrieved from https://www.giz.de/de/mediathek/55638.html. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- European External Action Service: Europäische Nachbarschaftspolitik ENP (08.02.2021), retrieved from https://eeas.europa.eu/diplomatic-network/european-neighbourhood-policy-enp/330/european-neighbourhood-policy-enp_en. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- UNHCR: Sport Partners (2021), retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/sport-partnerships.html. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimar BMI: Intergration durch Sport (2021), retrieved from https://www.bmi.bund.de/DE/themen/heimat-integration/integration/integration-sport/integration-sport-node.html. Last accessed 21.04.2021.
- Network fare: Inspire (2021). retrieved from https://refugeesandfootball.org/inspire. Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- FIFA (2010): Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. Zurich. retrieved from Status and Transfer 2010_INHALT.indd (fifa.com). Last accessed on 21.04.2021.
- Esson, James (2015): Better Off at Home? Rethinking Responses to Trafficked West African Footballers in Europe. In: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 41 (3).
- Brot für die Welt: Europa hat die tödlichste Außengrenze der Welt (20.06.2017), retrieved from https://www.brot-fuer-die-welt.de/blog/2017-europa-hat-die-toedlichste-aussengrenze-der-welt. Last accessed on 26.04.2021.
- Weyand, Jan (2014): Klasse, Klassenkampf, Geschichte. In: Artus, Ingrid et al. (Eds.): Marx für SozialwissenschaftlerInnen. Wiesbaden: Springer, pp. 51-81.
- Northrup, David (1995): Indentured labor in the age of imperialism, 1834–1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Aufenthaltsgesetz: Kapitel 5, Abschnitt 2, § 58. retrieved from https://dejure.org/gesetze/AufenthG/58.html. Last accessed on 28.04.2021.
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