Human Trafficking Awareness Day: A Look at the Trafficking of Soccer Players

Female Soccer Players Kicking Ball

Each year, since its inception in 2007, January 11 has been designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about sexual slavery and human trafficking worldwide. Women, children, minorities and soccer players included, are among those sold into human slavery each year.

Today, with 20 to 31 million people enslaved, there are more humans trafficked than at any other time in history. It is a multi-billion dollar business and one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. The U.S. Senate created the day as an American initiative to bring attention to the heinous act of kidnapping and smuggling humans by force. However, the day has since gained traction, sparking global efforts by the United Nations such as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

In human trafficking, children become soldiers. Women are sold into prostitution. Refugees and migrant workers are exploited.

Unfortunately, modern day slavery is a brutal reality that leaves children, women, minorities and people with disabilities at the greatest risk. These statistics paint a grim picture for a demographic that many soccer players around the world fall into.

“Soccer players are in the grip of commerce of which they are the pawns,” said Roger Blanpain, lawyer and former head of international players union FIFPro. “They are bought and sold like cattle. This amounts to human trafficking. At all levels.”

In the soccer world, young men and women from Africa, who come to Europe with dreams of playing for soccer clubs like Manchester United and Read Madrid, are exploited by unlicensed soccer academies and sold into human trafficking. There are stories like that of Matthew Edafe, who was signed by an “agent” promising the grandeur life of club football in Europe only to be dumped with no money, no football career and no future.

Unfortunately, this is a common thing, the exploitation of young soccer players from Third World countries who are brought to Europe with promises of agents or coaching academies supposedly affiliated with European clubs. The fact is young players looking to make a life for themselves by playing the beautiful game are often at risk against scammers.


FIFA has regulations in place to safeguard against the trade of young players. Players under the age of 18 are banned from moving internationally unless their entire family moves too. Member associations are also required to register all players attached to training academies affiliated with local associations. However, FIFA has no control over private academies.

“There is an ongoing trafficking in youngsters from Africa and South America, who are dumped if they do not succeed on the soccer market,” Blanpain explained.

The soccer dreams sold and routes taken to transport young players to Europe are similar to the routes of human trafficking commonly associated with prostitution and illegal immigration. Young soccer players, who are simply pursuing their love of the game, are at great risk of being trafficked.

Here are a few ideas on how you can make a difference and help fight the exploitation of soccer players sold into human trafficking:

  • Know the facts about human trafficking
    Americans often are widely unaware or uninformed about the effects of modern day slavery and human trafficking, even though it happens in the U.S. Contrary to the common myth, slavery was not eradicated with the 13th Amendment. Understand that it is not just a “them” issue but an “us” issue that affects the entire world.
  • Learn your slave trade footprint
    Be an informed consumer and know what companies are doing to eradicate slave labor and forced labor supply chains. Do not buy products from companies that do not provide information about where and how their products are produced. Go to to learn about what companies to support.
  • Know the signs of human trafficking
    Visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline to learn more about what signs to look for when identifying possible human trafficking and how you can help report it.







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