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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

Human Trafficking through Sport

I believe that sport is inherently good. But there are people who take advantage of that. Human trafficking through sport is an example of this. Sports for Social Impact wants to explore the positives of how sport can contribute to society, but we cannot ignore the negatives. People who are using sport for good need to consider all aspects of how their policies and programs are impacting people. This week I wanted to explore this more and focus on how sport needs to stay vigilant and constantly work to be safe.

This summer I completed an internship with Mission 89 so that I could learn more about the issue of human trafficking through sport and some of the policies that are being implemented to combat it.

Football (soccer) is the largest sport in the world. Because of its global reach, it is not uncommon for young people to dream of being discovered as an athlete and taken away to play for an international team. Human trafficking can occur through football when someone poses as an agent or talent scout identifies a player. This person asks for money in exchange for an opportunity. The, often young, player, will arrive in a foreign country with a short-term tourist visa. On arrival in the new country players are sometimes abandoned, if not they are not abandoned, they may be taken to trials with a club. If the trials are successful, the player may sign a contract (a contract that is usually exploitative), if they trials are unsuccessful, the player may be abandoned by the fake talent scout.

Human trafficking is also done in other sports, but how it occurs is less well known due to a lack of research. People take advantage of people’s love of sport and want for a better life.

FIFA has recognized this problem by implementing Article 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. It states that the international transfer of players is only permitted if the athlete is over the age of 18. However, there are several exceptions:

  1. The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.

  2. The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18.

  3. The player lives no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border. The maximum distance between the player’s domicile and the club’s headquarters shall be 100km. In such cases, the player must continue to live at home and the two associations concerned must give their explicit consent.

Human trafficking can also occur during large sporting events. It’s a Penalty is an organisation that partners with host committees for sporting events like the Olympics, Superbowl, Commonwealth Games, and FIFA World Cup to run campaigns to raise awareness and put an end to human trafficking through sport in major events.

Research shows that often migrant workers hired to construct new facilities for sporting events are shortchanged wages, left stranded in the new country and even trapped in slave labour. Major events can draw three times the normal volume of sex trafficking.

To keep sport good we need to ensure that when we are planning large sporting events, we plan to stamp out human trafficking. We often focus a lot on the legacy of hosting a major sporting event in a city, that legacy can be tainted with a bad human trafficking record.

We also need to focus on programs for rehabilitating survivors of sex trafficking. There is a program in Panama called “Move to Improve” that is aimed at empowering survivors of domestic abuse through boxing and taekwondo classes. A program like this can be modified to meet the needs of people who have survived being trafficked, and help with their recovery.

Human trafficking through sport is a huge problem. Large sporting events need to educate their volunteers and staff on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Sport governing bodies need to introduce policies that combat human trafficking in their sport, and governments need to identify loopholes in immigration policies that allow for this to happen and close them. Sport can only have a positive social impact if we work to keep it that way.


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