Scores of young, talented African footballers are being lured into the UAE on the promise of professional contracts at local clubs by fake agents in their home countries, only to be forced into Dh1,000 a month work as waiters or security guards upon arrival.
A Gulf News investigation has uncovered the trafficking of these players who cannot go back to their countries because they have taken loans of about Dh15,000 to afford the bogus agents’ fees, which they cannot repay.
Ebrahim, 18, a victim of such a ploy, explained to Gulf News that returning empty handed to his native Ivory Coast would not only leave him at the mercy of his debtors, but also prompt his family to question as to why he hadn’t made the most of his ‘big break’ abroad.
The footballer, who says he knows of 20 players in the same situation, is now in search of work to repay his debts, realising his big contract at a professional football club was all just a dream.
“If I ever go back to the Ivory Coast and find the man who cheated me I don’t know what I’d do to him,” said Ebrahim, whose name has been changed upon request.
“There are many people conned like this and many people acting as agents in Africa.”
Dubai Diamonds FC, a club set-up three years ago in order to help rehabilitate such players, trains five days-a-week at Safa Park acting as a social network for troubled players. From 50 regulars who gather to play, 30 have passed through a similar scam to get here, six have even arrived by such a method in the last two months.
Need to be sensitised
Zion Amoure, an assistant coach at the Diamonds club, said: “Youngsters in Africa need to be sensitised. They need to see what is happening to the players who are already here.
“The fake agents are not the only problem, but the parents [of footballers] too. They are uneducated and when they see Didier Drogba getting millions, they want their son to be the same. The so-called agent doesn’t need to convince them any further, he can just say the word and they will follow the dream. But their dream isn’t real.”
Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri, Director General of the General Directorate for Residency and Foreigners Affairs, Dubai (GDRFA), told Gulf News that the Dispute Section at the residency department has not received any such complaint from abandoned footballers. “I have not come across this issue, but if this is happening I encourage these football players to inform us about the agent so that we can prevent him from cheating others,” he said.
Major Gen Al Merri said such things can happen. “People have dreams to come here and they can be cheated back home. They should not chase illusions and must be careful. People must be aware of the rules of the country which they want to visit,” he said.
He said it is prohibited here to charge the employee visa fees. “These footballers are saying they paid large amounts of money to the agent to come and play for clubs here, which can never happen,” he said.
Major Gen Al Merri said there are rules on hiring football players from overseas to play for local UAE clubs.
“If they are to be employed by a local club, then the players must enter the country on an employment visa. The club concerned must apply for the visa,” Major General Al Merri said.
There must also be a work permit and contract between the two sides. He said even if the player is coming to the country to visit a local club, the club must apply for a visit visa for him.
Major Gen Al Merri said that if a person enters the country on a visit or tourist visa and finds a job with a local club as a footballer, then the club will have to apply for an employment visa and sponsor him.
Visit visas for teams who come to play here are usually applied for by the organisers. Some nationalities can obtain visas upon arrival while some need to obtain it prior to travelling to the UAE. Jean Claude Mbvoumin, founder of Foot Solidaire, a French charity, who works to combat the global issue of trafficking among African footballers said he has received 15 to 20 reports of fake agents luring players to the UAE, this year alone.
Figures, up from just 10 cases last year, are set to rise again according to Mbvoumin, due to the development of football throughout the GCC region, buoyed by Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup. “Cases are increasing. Everybody is talking about the Middle East, and particularly Dubai, as a football destination now, and everyone wants to play there. It’s becoming a new route for this kind of activity,” said Mbvoumin.
Embassies and consulates of African nations said they have not heard of such incidents. Public announcements by Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration has warned footballers against such fraudsters operating inside Africa who are offering trails and contracts in the UAE.
When players claiming to be victims of fake agents were asked to provide Gulf News with passport and visa numbers in order for to verify their claims and identify the ‘agent’ who brought them into the country, no one wanted to part with information on their sponsor for fear of reprisal.
Source: Gulf News