A feature, by Alieu Ceesay
In The Gambia, there hasn’t been any specific report of trafficking in sports, yet, but the general menace of illegal migration for greater opportunities in Europe has forced many youngsters to abandon their different sporting disciplines to embark on the journey of no return.
For a country, where opportunities aren’t many, the tendency of young talented sports men and women falling into the trap of criminals disguising as sports intermediaries or agents is quite very high.
It is against this background that over the past two weeks, the Gambia Sports Journalists’ Association, (SJAG) and Mission89, an NGO based in Geneva, in close partnership and stakeholders have been dialoging so as to raise awareness on trafficking in sports in The Gambia.
A media run/walk and a roundtable virtual meeting under the theme “The role of national stakeholders in the fight against trafficking in sports in The Gambia” were separately held and attended by stakeholders including the Gambia’s Youth and Sports Minister, Hon. Bakary Badjie. It seeks to highlight the responsibilities of stakeholders in the protection and support of victims and potential victims of sports trafficking.
The initiative is seen as very important to raise awareness to avert future occurrence of what is now described as “modern day slavery”.
The #NotInOurGame campaign is to increase people’s awareness on unsuspecting traffickers who use tricks to lure innocent young sports men and women with fake promises of helping them to develop their careers.
Yann Coelenbier, co-founder of Mission 89 believes this is just the beginning of many engagements to combat child trafficking in sports.
“Through Mission 89’s flagship #NotInOurGambia campaign, we educate potential victims and give them the information they need to distinguish between genuine and fraudulent opportunities. #NotInOurGame is a declaration that human trafficking has no place in sport and needs to be stamped out,” added Lerina Bright, Executive Director of Mission 89.
Musa Sise, President of the Sports Journalists’ Association of The Gambia, describes the event as “very important and timely” as part of the global efforts to curb trafficking in sports.
As an advocate and promoter of sports, Sise said though not common in The Gambia (as at the time of the event), the issue of illegal migration is a concern for The Gambia, where many have left the country in search for better opportunities with many losing their lives in the sea. He cited Ms Fatoumata Jawara, former National U-17 Women Goalkeeper who died while embarking on the illegal journey. Just like her, many talented sports men and women have abandoned the game with the hope of gaining better opportunities to pursue professional football.
“We want to kill it, #NotInOurGame,” said Musa Sise.
In the last four months of 2020, 101 intending illegal migrants were intercepted, said Foday Gassama, Commissioner for Migration Management at The Gambia Immigration Department. In addition to the anti-trafficking domestic laws, Mr Gassama is hopeful that a united approach is the solution to the problem.
“In 2020, there were 285 voluntary returnees from Niger and Libya who were taken by smugglers. There was also the returned of 37 trafficked women to Lebanon.”
The Immigration Department is not left alone in the efforts to address illegal migration and all forms of trafficking. One agency complementing their efforts is the Gambia National Agency against Trafficking in Person (NAATIP), under the Ministry of Justice, created by an Act of Parliament 2007.
“Our mandate is to suppress all forms of trafficking, particularly women and children. Trafficking in person is a trans-border crime that requires all stakeholders on board. Most people are trafficked for child labour, sex work, and extraction of their organs among others,” said Tulai Jawara Ceesay, Executive Director of NAATIP.
In The Gambia, most young girls have been tricked and trafficked to the Middle Eastern countries, such as Lebanon, not for sports but for other purposes. One of the retuning survivors, who had joined in the roundtable virtual meeting explained that they were made to believe there were greater opportunities for them, but only to realize they were trafficked upon arrival in Beirut, Lebanon, where she and others spent a year.
“We were informed about this travel opportunity by friends, but we never had the opportunity to speak to those that went ahead of us. The travel process was so smooth, all that was needed was just to take our blood test, pictures and our passport for our visas, which were facilitated by the agent in the Gambia,” the 26-year-old recalled.
She added: “Upon arrival at the Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, we were confined at one place before been picked-up differently, by people who would later informed us that we were sold to them, and they were at liberty to do anything with us.”
Alhagie Jarju, Executive Director of the Gambia National Youth Council, said there are structures across the country that promotes the welfare of young people, including migrant returnees. “Trafficking is a development challenge that requires for everyone to be aware of the tricks of the traffickers. There is a unit that provides counselling and support to returnees.”
Football is the dominant sport in The Gambia, and the hunger for success makes young footballers more vulnerable to the so-called football agents or now intermediaries. However, Mr Baboucarr Camara, Director of Communication and Marketing at The Gambia Football Federation reveals that the federation is trying to develop a code of ethics that will, among other things, promote and protect the welfare of players and guide the recruitment process of children.
Olawale Maiyegun, one of the event participants, believes most of the victims of trafficking in sports are not in the data system of the official national sports bodies, and as a result, the so-called agents only deal with the player. “This will ensure there are strict procedures to follow before a player is allowed to leave the country.”
At the end of the session, participants resolved that there is the need for stakeholders to join efforts and collaborate, back by progressive laws, to raise awareness on the menace through the use of various available different media platforms.