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Modern Slavery - The Soccer Player's Struggle For Freedom

Jul 11, 2008
The FIFA President and one of the most powerful men in soccer, Sepp Blatter, has again spoken out against what he calls 'modern slavery' in the beautiful game. Blatter is outraged at Manchester United's apparent attempts to prevent their prize asset from 'jumping ship' and drew uncomfortable comparisons with the slave trade.

Celebrated abolitionist author Frederick Douglass stated that 'I didn't know I was a slave until I found out I couldn't do the things I wanted.' A century and a half later and Sepp Blatter is comparing Ronaldo's difficulty in moving clubs to the slaves' deprivation of personal freedom.

In an age where modern-day soccer players can earn as much as 150,000 pounds a week it seems ludicrous to make such bold statements. However, connotations of slavery have been prevalent before with the transfer of players as young as 13 from African countries like the Ivory Coast to Europe and the Middle East so soccer isn't entirely innocent.

Sepp Blatter spoke out almost five years ago against Europe's leading soccer teams committing 'social and economic rape' by sending scouts to the developing world to grab their piece of the next big thing. Blatter labelled Europe's leading clubs as 'neo-colonialists' motivated by greed and with no concept of integrity and dignity.

Every year, thousands of children of varying talents are snapped up by agents, clubs and corporations(evident in the Carlos Tevez saga of 2007). These players will either make the grade and become professional footballers or will fall by the wayside and be left with nothing. With the importance of success and money associated with 21st century soccer, this fickle business sees more and more players dropping out without a trace.

The term 'football slavery' was penned to describe the situation many footballers found themselves in when paid low salaries and miles from home. This is clearly a long way from Ronaldo's predicament where he is being paid in the region of 100,000 pounds a week and playing for the champions of Europe.

The two types of slavery that Blatter describes are so far removed from each other that the use of the term 'slavery' in both is offensive. Ronaldo may have every right to expect his 'dream move' to Real Madrid, but he signed a new five year contract at Manchester United just a year ago. This is a long distance from the issues of unlicensed football academies and agents in Africa offering pipe dreams to impoverished families.

Look at the most successful teams in England, France and Spain and you will notice an increasing trend in investing in African soccer players. Arsenal's squad consists of a multitude of Africans including Alex Song (Cameroon), Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo). Adebayor even used his own success to attempt to inspire African youth by calling his success a 'journey of hope'.

It is the success stories of Adebayor, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o that inspire the youth of Africa to strive for success as professional soccer players. However, the hopes of these children is being manipulated and abused by mercenaries looking to make quick money with little or no concerns about the well-being of their new 'products'.

Examples of this way of thinking are rife in the Ivory Coast where Lebanese businessmen exploit the disenchanted youth. Explaining why he feels it acceptable, Lebanese football scout Mr Shalhoub spoke to the English newspaper, The Guardian. He claimed 'Football slavery exists in Africa. But Africa has long been exploited for diamonds, for gold, for its people, so why should footballers be any different?'
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