May 18, 2024

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Fake Footballers: Fraudsters Destroying Dreams and Families Across Africa |  Future planet

Fake Footballers: Fraudsters Destroying Dreams and Families Across Africa | Future planet

In the home of Olivier Diplo, a 22-year-old Ivorian, football is a taboo topic. Any mention of the beautiful game tenses the atmosphere and brings out the latent anger that settled in the house five years ago. In the modest house in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), where Diplo lives with his family, football is in harmony with bitterness. He explains, “If I raise this issue, they ask me to stop immediately, and threaten to throw me in the street.”

Since he was 17, Diplo has claimed to have been the victim of fake football agents on three occasions. His (now deceased) father, mother and stepfather spent at least €8,000 in hopes fueled by pure smoke. It has been a five-year period of broken promises in exchange for obscene wealth for an average coastal economy. Along the way, properties were sold and debts piled up.

It's an investment. If the boy succeeds as a footballer, everyone will benefit, so they are willing to mobilize the necessary resources

Frédéric Lapierre, International Labor Organization

“Fake agents have set up businesses – in Ivory Coast and all over Africa – for the simple reason that there is a lot of money in them,” says Marc Zorro, a former Ivorian player and president of an Ivorian club. Football Players Association In his country. Far from being a crude charlatan, his methods are, he says, evocative of a white-collar thief. “A smart and seductive person, a real specialist in lying.” From his office in Abidjan, Zoro reports on the havoc wreaked by the lies of these expert con artists. “I know cases of young children who were imprisoned in Thailand or Armenia. They are desperate, helpless and have no money to return home.”

During his trip, Diplo endured airport lockdowns and nights out. He survived for three months in Dubai, training in public parks while waiting for a test for the Emirati team that never arrived. They also guaranteed him that he would play for a club in the Indian Premier League, but he ended up destroying his right arm in the 7-a-side rough-and-tumble football league in Kerala, in the south Asian country. The third time they betrayed him, Diplo did not travel. They were all, at first, charming words from a theoretical agent in London. Then deadlines are postponed forever. Later, unanswered calls. In the end, the same result: money and more money thrown into the drain of broken dreams.

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The interview with Diplo took place on a barren football pitch in Abidjan, where part of African football's richest collection thrives. It's Saturday, match day, and two teams of teenagers are duking it out in the afternoon sun, in the humid heat of Ivory Coast.

Gogun Loua, football coach and victim of the lying agent, with two of his players in Abidjan (Ivory Coast).Katarzyna Stachira
A photo of a match in the Ivorian Youth Football League.Katarzyna Stachira
Press Djidji in Abidjan (Ivory Coast). The young man traveled to Saudi Arabia, China or Morocco after being duped by agents of the fake footballers.Katarzyna Stachira

At 16 years old, tall and lanky, Yves shows promise as a central defender. He claims to be aware of the danger of fake customers. He sums up why they have achieved their goal several times over: “For many African boys, being a professional footballer is our ultimate ambition. If we see even a small possibility of achieving it, we go for it. “This way it is easier for them to manipulate us.”

Yves returns to the field of play. A mere coincidence or symptom of the extent of the problem, a casual conversation with his coaches reveals that they too, more than a decade ago, were the victim of a lying agent. It happened in 2012, when they were both 16 years old and playing on their neighborhood team. For six months, a man provided them with sports equipment, supervised their training in the love of art, and perked their ears with praise. “He has completely gained our trust,” says Gojon Lua, one of the coaches.

Then the scammer threw the bait: a trial for a French team for 1,200 euros. The criminal's words dazzled Loa, who saw her dream within reach. “My family made great sacrifices, but they managed to raise the money. We are handing it to you. Shortly after, he called us to do some paperwork. He did not show up for the appointment so we went to his house. He disappeared without a trace,” he remembers.

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For the scam to take hold, it is necessary to involve families. Poor and poorly educated parents, uncles and grandparents often see in these miscreants an escape route from misery. “It is an investment. If the boy succeeds as a footballer, everyone will benefit, so they are ready to mobilize the necessary resources,” says Frédéric Lapierre, the centre’s director. International Labour Organization (International Labor Organization) in Ivory Coast.

Lapierre places the problem in the “phenomenon of migration.” Despite the persistence of the person in charge, unlike the networks that manage migration in Africa, the false agents are free: “They are simple opportunists who take advantage of extreme vulnerability.”

do not lose hope

next to International Federation of Professional Footballers' Associations (Fibro) and Didier Drogba FoundationThe International Labor Organization launched in March 2023 a campaign To warn of a scam in which, according to a preliminary estimate, 27% of African players contacted by an agent have fallen. The initiative included a Lecture tour From the Ivorian football academies. Lapierre, Drogba and Zorro traveled around the country urging people to check the credentials of the man claiming to be an agent. He inculcated the importance of education: to better recognize a liar, and develop an alternative plan to earn a living through it, if the football path does not flourish.

“Plan A, I would say. Very few kids will become professionals. In Africa, it is accepted that football and school are not compatible,” says Rodrigue Etienne, who played in Romania and Morocco until he suffered a serious injury that ended his career. Before turning professional, he Etienne also heard siren songs. There were many people who set dream prospects for him, always after paying a large sum. “I preferred to continue studying and let my talent do the talking. If there is interest, it should be the team that pays all expenses.

Unfortunately, Etienne admits that offering non-refundable funds is a common practice in hiring new talent. He added: “There are European, North African or Asian clubs that do not want to bear any cost without seeing the player live.” They invite you to take the test at their facilities, but they do not take a single euro of risk. The boy must pay for transportation, accommodation, visa and maintenance. “If the test goes well, you get your money back. If not, the club has nothing to lose,” adds Etienne. Children who aspire to make a living from football know that this is often the case.

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In fact, there are an infinite number of ways an African footballer could end up signing for a foreign team. Since there are no clear patterns to cling to, rumours, half-truths and true facts proliferate in a poorly regulated market, despite the difficult conditions. Last attempt by FIFA To put some order.

A dizzying vortex of verbiage and fake documents has pushed Bryce Gidji halfway around the world. Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, China… Each country, the scammers insisted, works in its own way, with its own bureaucracies and complex events. Djidji lived an odyssey full of frustrations, as he and his family spent more than 10,000 euros. In 2013 he ended up in Mohammedia, a small city near Casablanca (Morocco). “That time it seemed like it was getting serious. About 20 players took part in the house. “There were Senegalese, Guineans, Malians… and the guy who took us there kept us going until one day he disappeared,” he says. In the following years, Djidji worked on what came of age. Trying to maintain his fitness. “I still want to play in Morocco, even if it is in the second or third division.” Two years ago, he decided to return to Ivory Coast.

On Saturday afternoon, Olivier Diblo – a young man whose home cannot talk about football – plays matches in the facilities provided by a school in Abidjan. On a small patch of grass bordered by tropical plants, he and his friends show passion, physical strength and nobility. The best attributes of African football. Despite his long history of disappointments, Diplo does not give up and looks for a new opportunity. “Maybe in a small Spanish club,” he sighs sadly.

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