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banner Saturday, 8 December, 2001, 13:28 GMT
Out of Africa
World Football investigates the Belgian football slave trade
Young African footballers are heading for Europe
World Football's Richard Fleming investigates the illegal exploitation of black footballers forced to play for nothing in Belgium.

Serge Nijki Bodo, like many 17-year-old African footballers, had only one dream - to make it big in Europe.

But after being offered a professional contract at a first division Belgian club he was soon dropped - without ever being paid.

With his visa about to run out, he was forced to sign a contract with an agent who demanded 50 percent of his earnings.

He soon found himself penniless, with no visa and little chance of work - and he wasn't alone.

Serge Nijki Bodo found himself playing for nothing
Serge Nijki Bodo's situation was all too common
The so-called 'slave trade' in african footballers was first highlighted by Paul Carlier, of all things an interior designer by profession.

This after a number of sorry cases like Serge's were brought to his attention.

As a result, he set up a Human Rights Group known as the Sport and Freedom Association.

"Newspaper journalists talk about it, the federation says they know there is a problem, but laws are not made overnight" he said.

"I think we will have to wait two or three years to see the results of our actions."

The financial burden on Carlier's group meant that he was forced to hand the reins over to a higher, louder voice.

He found such an ally in a former Olympian, and a former coach of the Belgian Judo squad, senator Jean-Marie Dedecker.

"It goes as high as some ministers because I have proof they are involved in some trade of players" he said.

"Politicians are so involved in football, some are presidents of clubs, some are on the boards, so nobody is doing anything.

"Not even the football league can do anything because it's the league of professional players who are the boss in Belgium.

"If politics is doing nothing then nothing will change.

"It's a lot worse than two or three years ago.

"Now we have clubs that only play with African players.

"I can show you a docu,ment from a trainer in Belgium who has made money on the back of players but I have to cover the player who is still playing in the first division who brings me all the information and I can do that but if they bring it out themselves they are finished".
'We won't see any change for a few years' - Paul Carlier
Paul Carlier set up the Sport and Freedom Association

Since the issue was first highlighted the Belgian government and its football authorities have been forced to admit that a problem does exist.

Paul Bistiaux is general secretary of first division side Royal Antwerp.

He says the exploitation of foreign players has been blown out of all proportion.

"There have been some unfortunate cases in the past obviously, I'm not denying that, but I think the reputation of Belgium in the football world as a slave-trade country is undeserved" he said.

"I'm not saying it doesn't happen because there are always loopholes, but for the agents and clubs its much more difficult to do what they used to."

But M Dedecker insists that corruption is still widespread.

"We don't have to change the rules, we just have to follow the law and that it what we are not doing because politicians are involved in the football, and we are talking about huge amounts of money. And money makes the rules".

"I have proof of cases where they change the passports, when they are playing with minors, and when the immigration police aren't doing anything".

M Bistiaux insists the problem is much more widespread.

"Its not a Belgian problem, it's global.

"No country will ever be able to eradicate these problems one hundred percent.

"Belgium has never been a slave trade country and as far as I'm concerned it never will be".
Paul Bistiaux says the problem isn't just a Belgian one
Paul Bistiaux, general secretary of Royal Antwerp

"As long as there's money involved there will always be people trying to make a quick buck, so the temptation will always be there.

"I think no-one will be able to say that the problem has been solved completely, but I must add that it doesn't only go for Belgium, it goes for any country in Europe".

A 1998 report was heavily critical of both agents and clubs, claiming that in one region of Belgium alone there were two thousand cases of abuse.

Jean-Marie Dedecker says the clubs are getting away with far too much.

"All managers are looking for the 'big black diamond'" he said.

"You stay illegal and you can do what you want because you play football.

"If you did the same thing when you work in a hospital you would get taken out of the country.

"But when it's for football, everything's ok."

You can hear all of Richard fleming's report in World Football on Saturday 8 December. Check local listings for exact times. And you can hear the thoughts of Paul Carlier, Jean-Marie Dedecker and Paul Bistiaux by using the audio links at the top of the page.

Sport and Freedom Association's Paul Carlier
'The federation knows there is a problem'
Sport and Freedom Association's Jean-Marie Dedecker
'Money makes the rules'
Royal Antwerp's Paul Bistiaux
'It's the same in any country in Europe'
See also:

29 Nov 01 |  Africa
Jay-Jay's in the money
19 Nov 01 |  Football
Russia gets the African touch
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


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