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"Culture is the heritage of us all. some may be more interested than others in the treasures of the past, but no one can fail to take a pride in his country's participation in the story of mankind, as represented in carvings, sculpture, music, paintings and the other arts. And there is a personal commitment to this, for no man can really say he is alone: we are all joined through our identity, with the cultures which are part of the mainstream of life"
- Simon Kapwepwe, Zambian Independence Freedom Fighter

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill

"Try to be the rainbow in someone else's cloud" - Maya Angelou

"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinion drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition" - Steve Jobs

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

"Merchants of Hope": The Disillusionment In The African Football Dream

Finally watched the Current TV documentary Soccer's Lost Boys. I am glad I waited till after the World Cup as it was depressing to see what happens to these boys who are sold hope by sketchy Africans and Europeans alike.

First and foremost I agree with a comment made that comparing this situation with those of the Lost Boys of Sudan is not equal.  I know that documentaries like to be incendiary, but that was a bit much.  I liked how one of the men who had been tricked into going to Morocco by an agent said that the people who deal in the African Dream are "Sellers of hope".  When asked why people still fall for it, even though it is clear that nothing comes of it, he continued to say that that is what they do they are "Merchants of hope" that deal with "total disillusionment."  These people prey of the hopes and dreams of young children who want to emulate their heroes Drogba, Essien and Eto'o and their families who are easily led to believe that their investment will be return exponentially.  So "Sellers" or "Merchants of hope" I think would have been a better title.

Africans have to take responsibility for the inception of the disillusionment.  Our stars need to not only come back and set up schools, football camps and better the communities they came from, they also need to speak up regularly about how they are the exception not the rule.  They also need to talk about how they got to where they are, because when recruited, payment to an agent is not required, the club pays for the expenses.  And even if things more often that not don't pan out, at least families are not left destitute. I happened to sit next to a young Zambian football player off to Germany and France to try his luck.  I flew with him to South Africa and made sure he got on his connecting flight as he had never flown before. He had all his documents in an envelope and who to call if anything went wrong. That is how it is supposed to be done. These realities need to be revealed.

This reminds me of the article in Time's June World Cup Issue about Samuel Eto'o. During his conversation with the Time's reporter Eto'o made use of the word dream a total 14 times including when he said  "My whole life is a dream, a dream come true, a dream I'll only wake up from the day I stop playing football." However this is the exception not the rule. Most of the time, the boys end up realising they are actually in a nightmare that they can't wake up from. The ones who are manage to make it to Europe are still likely to be met with disappointment. Eto'o went through a reputable sports academies in Cameroun: L'Ecole de Football des Brassieries du Cameroun and the Kadji Sport Academy, played for his country at the U-16 level and was recruited by Real Madrid. And the people who are read the article are not the people who are going to be bamboozled.  This story needs to be told through channels that will reach those vulnerable to these get-rich-quick-through-football schemes as well.

Essien's journey is similiar, taking him to France first after representing Ghana at Youth level.  Drogba was lucky to have family in France.  Essien finished high school and Drogba was banned from football when he had to repeat a year of school.  Unlike what Mr. Smith, the dubious Ghanaian Youth Coach said, these guys did not abandon their education to become the stars they we know and love. He should not be encouraging kids to do so in the name of their idols.

The exploitation continues in Europe, where those interested profiting from football and those interested in exploiting the precarious situation these boys find themselves in once they are no longer legal take advantage. Continuing the illusion of hope by making these boys play games hoping that they will be spotted by an agent, or locals taking advantage of the boys need to survive at whatever cost is just as despicable as the coaches and agents in Africa who pluck them from their families.

What I liked most about the documentary is that it showed that there are Africans and Europeans who have seen this problem and are doing something about it.  You can find more information about the initiatives mentioned in the documentary below.  There are also links to other initiatives going on and what Drogba and Essien are doing (Eto'o site is temporarily down btw):

The Right To Dream, The Craig Bellamy FoundationFoot Solidaire, FIFA and Foot Solidaire, Win in Africa With Africa, 1Goal, Essien's Foundation, Drogba's Foundation, Eto'o's Foundation.

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