This case study presents two individual experiences of human trafficking within the context of football.
The first example is of Al Bangura, a former professional footballer who was a victim of human trafficking. Bangura was lured with the promise of playing for a European football team and transported from Sierra Leone to Paris and then to London. Once in London, he was subjected to sexual abuse and attempted rape. He managed to escape and was fortunate enough to be scouted by Watford Football Club, a prominent team in the English Premier League.
The second case is that of Segun, who was brought to London from Nigeria at the age of 13 with the promise of becoming a footballer. Segun was exploited for his labor and made to work at a car-wash and a nightclub. He eventually escaped his abuser and was taken under the care of social services.
A survivor’s story
Al Bangura was born and raised in Sierra Leone but now lives in London.
He is a former professional footballer who has played for Watford in the English Premier League. Al is also a survivor of human trafficking, and his story is an example of trafficking through football.
Below is his account of his experience being trafficked.
‘I was taken to Paris on the promise that I would play for a European football team. From there, I was taken to London. It quickly became clear that something wasn’t right. I was taken to a hotel and left there, alone. Very soon, older men began to turn up and tried to get close to, then touch and then rape me. Scared and afraid I didn’t know what was happening and had no one to turn to for help. I felt trapped. However, against all odds, and I still don’t know how, I managed to escape.’
‘I found someone who spoke my language and he paid for my bus ticket to the UK’s Home Office. They couldn’t verify my age, as I didn’t have any identification. I was put into a home in Chertsey in the South East of England and it was there that I started to play football. Amazingly a scout for Watford Football Club spotted me and I was signed to play for the team.’
‘I realized how lucky I was to have got away. Sadly, so many others in my position don’t. In countries all over the world, trafficking not only exists but is thriving. In West Africa, my story is not uncommon. Thousands of young boys, many aspiring to be footballers, are sold a dream, which ends in a nightmare. In fact, I still hear stories like mine from back home. The truth is, slavery doesn’t just happen in faraway countries. It happens in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.’
‘What happened still affects my everyday life. I find it hard, for example, to trust football agents who claim to represent my best interests and I’ve struggled to make the most of my talents. It has sometimes impacted my ability to provide for my family in these latter days of my career. However, when I play football, I still feel free. I find my confidence. I start to smile.’
We can see the parallel here with Segun’s story, which serves to underline the prevalence of these types of occurrences.
However, the act and purpose of child trafficking can vary significantly. As we begin to look at trafficking in a football context, here is Segun’s story.
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Segun was brought to London from Nigeria at the age of 13, by a man who promised to help him fulfil his dreams of becoming a footballer. The man said he knew how to help young boys join football clubs in the UK.
Segun had been living with a friend of the family, as both his mother and father had died. He had no siblings and no primary carer. The person who brought him used false papers; Segun had no proof of ID other than his birth certificate.
Once in the UK, Segun was made to work at a car-wash in South London during the day, and at weekends he worked as a toilet attendant at a nightclub. All the money he earned went to the man who had brought him to the country.
After about a year of abuse, Segun managed to escape from his abuser. At time of writing, Segun is under the care of social services.