The Football Factory

Every little boy wants to be a footballer when he grows up. Every parent wants their son to be a professional footballer. Don’t they?

Fairtrade Footballs at Ethical SuperstoreI didn’t think I did until we were approached three years ago by a Sunderland AFC scout about our son. I can still remember how excited I was, what dreams I had, how I had the future all planned out….I can also remember how devastated he was to be dropped a year later. Immense disappointment. A huge blow to his self esteem. And he was still only nine.

The dream isn’t just about money or fame. Playing professional football is the greatest goal for those who love the game.

I guess it’s the same in the Ivory Coast. Parents dream of success as young barefoot children kick a ball around in the dust. They yearn for a way out of postwar poverty for their offspring. So when the scout approaches them with an offer from a European or North African club, they seize the opportunity and send their child off into the unknown. At the age of fourteen. According to the article I read in the Guardian Weekly, 90% of players leaving West Africa are doing so illegally and will end up on the scrapheap.

A young footballer can be worth much more than a diamond……It is the new slave trade. The reality for most young players is further poverty and abuse……

So what can be done? Buying fairtrade footballs will appease some ethical footy fans, but how about cocoa? The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa and has two Fairtrade cocoa producers. Divine cocoa is sourced from a fair trade co-operative in neighbouring Ghana. You can even buy fair trade chocolate footballs! (Update: turns out you can’t - they are coming back as chocolate Christmas puddings!). Supporting fair trade in these West African countries is one step towards rehabilitating the economy and stopping this exploitation.

Junior football is ruthless in this country. But I don’t suppose that many of us parents see our child’s success as a way of securing the future of the whole family. We don’t have to. We are not so desperate that we have to “turn our children into objects of transaction.” How desperate would we have to be to do that?

These families obviously are that desperate.
(Quotes from “Inside Africa’s football factory”, Guardian Weekly 29.06.07)

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