Debunking human trafficking: Exploitation in sport

Ivana Pranjić is an ENGSO Youth Committee member who believes that sport is a powerful force that can bring people together in solidarity and celebration while also addressing social issues and being a powerful advocacy tool. She is involved with Mission89, an organisation with the mission to protect young athletes from trafficking in the name of sport. 18 October is the EU Anti-Trafficking Day, and on this occasion, Ivana raises awareness about human trafficking threats in sport, mostly affecting young athletes from developing countries.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that in 2016 there were more than 40 million victims of different forms of human trafficking globally, with a quarter of those victims being children. Human trafficking, also known as modern slavery, is a $150 billion criminal industry, second only to drugs.

Understanding the scale of the issue in sport is notoriously difficult for two key reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to detect cases of human trafficking. One of the biggest challenges in developing anti-trafficking measures is the lack of reliable data which could shed light on the size of the problem and help identify common migration channels, victims and trafficker profiles. The second issue is the way human trafficking is defined and perceived by people globally. Our perception of what human trafficking looks like is too specific. The term “human trafficking” conjures up images of young women forced into prostitution and child soldiers. These images are rightly disturbing, but it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the breadth of activities that fall under the term and not limit ourselves to one definition.

Exploitation in sport

The idea that young people willingly dream of pursuing a career in sport can make the issue of human trafficking more difficult to detect. Typically, the process begins when someone claiming to be an agent contacts a young player and persuades them to leave their home to pursue their lifelong dream in Europe. Legal channels such as short-term tourist visas are used to enter Europe. Once there, the young athletes hand over their money to the sham agent, who leaves them with no money, connections or resources. The pressure to provide for themselves and their families back home is a huge driver for young people from developing countries. Usually, this keeps them in Europe looking for work; but once their short-term visa expires, their stay becomes illegal.

Organisations like FIFA cannot ultimately prevent fraudulent individuals selling young athletes a dream that is built on a lie. Tackling this issue requires more than what football organisations can provide. The common structural issues around inequality, the root cause of the above-described problem, requires a multi-agency approach, with border agencies, guardians, transport companies, agents and sport associations all working together to mitigate risks and ensure the safety of young athletes.

Unfortunately, for the moment, this multi-agency cooperation does not exist. Sport has become yet another cover under which traffickers operate, but many people are still ignorant of how common it can be. Many sports are a target for potential corruption, and migration in sport is a hotbed for corrupt practices. To protect the players, we need more people raising awareness of the issue, arguing for measures to be taken that will protect young people from exploitation.

Advocating for the right cause through sport, I do believe that it can change the world, that’s why I joined Mission89 in their mission to protect young athletes from trafficking in the name of sport. Learn more about their activities on their Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram account.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. October 18 is the European Anti-Trafficking Day and I fight against the exploitation of young people in the name of sport. We will not stand for it in our beautiful game and anywhere else!

#EndHumanTrafficking #NotInOurGame

Ivana Pranjić

ENGSO Youth Committee member