What exactly was Barcelona accused of by Fifa, and why does it frighten the British press?

By Tony Attwood
The International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), is a charitable organisation that proposes and supports International Safeguards for Children in Sport.   Its reports estimates that there are maybe 15,000 trafficked child players in Europe from the age of 11 upwards.
And the situation is growing worse.
They boys have been promised the earth.  They end up penniless, homeless, sleeping rough, talented, but not talented enough.But they exist because there is no bottom to the depth of human savagery in making money out of children, and no end to the greed of clubs like Barcelona.Their La Masia academy was considered to be the best youth academy in Europe, and it maintained that standard because it had a non-stop array of young players knocking at the door.  For Barcelona it didn’t matter where they came from, and what exploitation was happening to bring this stream to the club’s doors.  The agents loved them – because Barcelona never asked questions.

The rules from Fifa were there for all to see – Barcelona could not sign any player under 18 from outside the EU unless one of the parents already had a residency and job near the club – not least to look after the child and to provide for the child if the child did not meet the standards required.

But Barcelona, aided by the Spain FA ignored the rules, and got a reputation for taking on children, no matter what, no questions ask.  And not just from Africa.  Seung-Ho Paik, from South Korea was one the children recruited by Barcelona illegally.  We can incidentally see the same gung-ho attitudes seemingly running through the club over tax matters, if the recent outburst of court cases is anything to go by.

And seemingly as with tax, Barcelona didn’t do child trafficking just once, but repeatedly.

Of course Barcelona may not be the only club that doesn’t mind trafficking in children – there may well be others, but so far the evidence is not there.

But from the moment Untold started following this story and giving it lots of coverage (while most of the rest of the football world remained silent) we got emails from people saying “Arsenal do just the same”.  No one has ever provided a scrap of evidence however.  That’s how it goes.  If Arsenal were guilty of this I would condemn them just as much.  At some point support finishes, and for me that would be way over the line.   But there is not the slightest scrap of evidence and the allegations look like childish tit for tat comments from people supporting Barcelona who are still in denial about the enormity of the crime committed by the club.

Meanwhile the story is that in some European cities there are now significant numbers of teenagers around, brought over by agents who abandon them if they can’t get a placement.  But clearly a few have been getting placed somewhere somehow.  There are, it seems, other clubs as dirty as Barcelona out there.

Of course the agents are the ultimate criminals in this, working the young players as pimps work prostitutes, taking the money, paying them a pittance, ditching them when they are no longer of use.

But there has to be clubs willing to deal with such players and agents for the whole thing to work, just like there has to be men who will use street prostitutes.

As for the children, as the reality hits they are left without a means to get back home, even if they wanted to – and often they don’t want to go back and admit that they screwed up.  After all, their parents probably put all of their meagre possessions in paying the fake agents to get the child to Europe in the first place.

Now there are even what are called Schools of Football Excellence in Africa which claim they are set up by the clubs in Europe, to find young talent and bring it to the clubs.  It is all a con and all a sham and there is now evidence that some of the kids end up as boat people, abandoned off the coast of Itlay.  And the supporting of this trafficking is the eternal shame that Barcelona faces and which football supporters should never allow to be forgotten.

The Metropolitan Police in London are now becoming involved trying to liaise with countries in West Africa.  But guess what – the FA don’t want to know.  They don’t have an officer in charge of stopping trafficking happening in England, they don’t monitor cases of child trafficking here, and they don’t have anyone who actually is available to liaise with the police.

Child trafficking?  Not our problem.

Meanwhile fake agents flourish all over Europe, charging vulnerable young men every penny they have, with the promise of pushing their credentials to the clubs.  Of course they take the money and run.

So, if the inept, pathetic and hopeless FA can’t even put a man on the case, who can.  The UN certainly is taking action, but it works through established agencies, which means…. Fifa.


But Fifa has fractionally redeemed itself given Fifa’s remarkable insistence on dealing with the Barcelona case following some whistle blowing in the Spain FA.  Maybe they can be persuaded to do it again.

Except that Fifa is answerable to no one.  Switzerland has granted it immunity from its own laws on corruption.  If they are not doing anything about the death of people developing the world cup stadia in Qatar are they going to act to help unknown young men lost and abandoned?

Well, maybe not, but something did make them act against Barcelona.

Which leaves just one agency that could take action to help stop this situation.  The media.

So why does the press leave this alone?  Because Barcelona is big news bringing in lots of readers.  Revealing the truth about Barcelona is not big news.  In fact not news at all.  Best not go there. Let’s run stories about Barcelona selling players now even though we know they can’t because of the transfer ban throughout this year.  And by 2016, well, no one will remember, will they?

Once more, football is betrayed.


If you want to make a comment do have a look at this article.  If you don’t you might find yourself taking time to send us a comment we never get to see.

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27 Replies to “What exactly was Barcelona accused of by Fifa, and why does it frighten the British press?”

  1. The Media.

    A bigger bunch of agenda driven, hypocritical, lying, criminal, devious bastards you would be hard pressed to meet….although it’s arguable Politicians and Bankers could give them a run for there money….okay, maybe not.

  2. Maybe because according to the main steam media or the law of the land, its not a crime per say. Yes, they may blame this on the parents being greedy but not going deeper into the fact that why the parents do this. We can understand if this is a developing country where money is a major issue so parents feel that the child will get them out of poverty. But even parents in this country fall into the same trap. Quick money.

  3. Devastating.
    I’m sure they are not the only ones. Regrettably.
    It’s not good if salvation relies on Fifa.

  4. Gouresh…..child trafficking IS a crime anywhere in the world. If you are a minor (under 18 in most countries and under 21 in many) then nobody is supposed to be able to deal directly with you or manipulate, sell, traffic or recruit you without your parents consent. Even then, slavery or the selling of a person to another person(s) is totally illegal worldwide. However the sex trafficking of kids is very big business in Asia. When I was in India, my wife and I were offered a little 4 year old girl for about 1.5 lakh (150,000 rupees = about 1,607 pounds sterling) on the street. Her mother couldn’t look after her and she was going to be abandoned. We got in touch with a Catholic sister we had met and she brought her to an orphanage/school for nothing.
    It is, as you say, all about survival and money…..these ¨pseudo-agents¨ profit enormously from trafficking these boys to Europe and perhaps FIFA and EUFA have finally woken up to the fact that they are aiding and abetting these vermin by NOT protecting these kids.

  5. Omgarenal. I see what u are saying and completely agree but lets imagine a case. Will it stand in the court law? Because if it would be the case how come no charitable organization has put a case against clubs, breaking this law. It sure is a crime in the book of FIFA but what about Spanish law. Where does this stand. Someone who has knowledge can give us some more information.

  6. well mate u r right in some consent…. but you forgot to mention that when Barcelona brings in young players their for most priority is to provide them education…. not like other clubs who put football training in no 1 priority…
    so any youngster who cant be professional footballers can chose another options….
    so do some research before writing…

  7. The Swiss don’t come out of this scandal at all well.
    To give immunity from the law to a corrupt organisation like FIFA, in return for having its HQ in their country, is greed of a most disgusting nature.

  8. Pirates, I don’t have the figures for how many youngsters actually made it at the academy to 16 but I am certain that many left before that – still leaving them with nothing. What is more by dealing with under age players they encouraged the fake agents to trade on that They could say, look Barcelona are taking players from all over the world, and quote names, and that encouraged parents to let their children go – not know if they were dealing with fake agents or the real thing.

  9. I don’t understand why Barca are being made out to be the big criminals here, take Messi for example, no clubs in Argentina were willing to pay his medical treatment, whereas Barca were, they brought Messi over at 13 years old, continued his education, paid for the treatment he needed and gave his father a job. Now if it didn’t work out for Messi, what’s the problem? He and his father simply return to Argentina if they choose to and life goes on. I understand the need for legislation but Barca are a club who give opportunities, give HOPE for some players to live their dreams, give them the best possible footballing education regardless of where they come from on the planet, I’m sure Barca would be quite content just living off their Catalan sources of youth but doesn’t that take away opportunities for every youngster good enough to make the grade and begin a better development, living outside the EU?

    Shouldn’t FIFA be regulating this better themselves? Why weren’t the transfers stopped from happening in the first place? Surely that says there’s a bigger problem in FIFA, than Barca?

  10. Barca also have links to Cameroon through the Samuel Eto’o foundation, where they can take on players from there and continue their development at Barca but with this legislation, the whole idea would be as good as scrapped if Barca are banned from bringing them to Spain to develop their skills at the right age.

  11. Barcelona brings in children primarily to educate them, and not primarily for football? Beside the obvious idiocy in that comment, you mean like a normal school that they were going to before they were illegally trafficked across the world?

    Just because Barcelona’s illegal child trafficking may be better than another club’s doesn’t make it any better.

  12. I mean, any less illegal or immoral.

    Interesting the lengths people will go to to excuse child trafficking.

  13. @omgarsenal, @tony
    Calling this child trafficking and equating it to sex trafficking of kids is taking it too far. As a regular reader, I feel the discussion on this topic has been narrow and without objectivity. As much as we all love Barca-bashing, is it possible that they may not be a mash-up of the Sith Lord and the Dark Lord that happens to be a football club?

    This is a classic case of attacking the symptom and not the problem. As far as I understand, the kids under consideration are pretty well taken care of at Barcelona. That would mean that they do not face the problems mentioned in the article- the same problems that this law aims to shield them from. The real problem lies elsewhere- where lesser clubs at lesser leagues and of lesser means use kids as mere commodities and make no provisions for their highly probable return to their homeland.

    Are Barcelona guilty? Of course they are. They are in contravention of the rules and deserve to be punished. Any other outcome is undesirable. While the severity and extent of the punishment is open to debate, the punishment itself should be viewed as deterrence and not as retribution. Moreover, this case is but a drop in the ocean as Barca’s case involves 10 kids- a fraction of the 15000, if I were to use the reported estimates. It is commendable that Fifa have, in spite of themselves, relentlessly pursued this. However, they certainly have bigger (if not as well-known) fish to fry.

  14. i honestly don’t see what’s wrong with giving a child a chance at one of the best football academies, and paying for their family relocation
    what difference does it make if they are from EU or not?

  15. fwif i think the law is wrong and barcelona is right for breaking it, not that it is should not be punished for breaking it

  16. Peter, of course Fifa are appalling and should be sorted out – and indeed it is amazing that they purused this case. But the fact remains that because everyone knew that barca was taking under age players the agents were able to make the case that taking children to Europe was perfectly acceptable there, even though their governments and local clubs were saying no.

  17. Great article Tony.

    Hrish you make some pretty sweeping statements i.e. ‘as much as we all love Barca-bashing’.

    Wrong is wrong no matter who does it; the vulnerable are being preyed upon by the immoral and greedy and when they are of no use left to fend for themselves in a foreign country – a sometimes cold and unwelcoming country – that’s tough for anyone much less children.

    The media – well what can I say? For me such news is very big indeed and I’m glad Untold have shone a light on it.

    The media aren’t there to bring us what we need to know they’re there to maintain the status quo.

  18. @Gooneress
    All I am saying is that this issue goes beyond Barcelona. The article seems to suggest that Barcelona exploits the kids in some manner. The system in place at Barcelona puts great emphasis on their education and the kids there are taken care of quite well. At least, that is my understanding of the situation.

    The real problem lies with unregulated academies in Africa and the agents who take advantage of the system. Kids are lured with fake promises of trials at European clubs and abandoned once the agents have their cut.

    Yes, Barcelona are in the wrong- no question. Immoral or greedy?- No, not as far as the evidence suggests. Their mistake lies in breaking the rules alone. Engaging in exploitative activities that these rules aim to prevent would be a human rights violation- a far serious offence. And nothing seems to suggest that they have done that. There is a difference between evil and wrong and that is what this discussion seems to miss.

  19. @Peter and hrishi

    It’s easy to see the sparkles up front with the Messi’s story and what Barcelona (and others) wants to show.
    The reality is: How many kids got their lifes screwed because of a handful of super stars?
    There is a reason why there is laws against bringing people at such a young age.

    Thing is, we don’t have the number to show for it, that’s a bit missing. That’s the uneasy part of this argumentation. If there is a ration of 1 kid unsuccessful left in the guter for every 10 boys, I suppose it wouldn’t be that bad.

    However, I have the feeling it’s more 99/100 best case scenario…

    Sorry for the guessing, I know you guys don’t like that 😉

  20. @Mr.Tony @omgarsenal @hrishi

    I have this one question in my head….
    Do they treat the boys the same manner as in child sex trafficking?

  21. Oh and one more thing… This article is not showing in the mobile version?
    Or am i missing something?

  22. @Francois
    I agree. In fact, I think even 99/100 would be putting it mildly. I am not blinded to this reality by the Messi story at all. And that is why I think they deserve punishment.

    But there is a difference between breaking a technical rule and taking illegal advantage of an exploitative system. There certainly were many at La Masia who didn’t turn out like Messi and they might have been from other continents (whether existing laws were broken in their transfers I do not know,as the time-frame for Article 19 remains unclear). My point is that there is nothing to suggest that they were not enriched from the experience.

    We need to solve this problem at its roots. There needs to be awareness about the dangers that these kids face. That is the message that should reach Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. In a world with regulated academies, proper channels of communication from concerned European clubs with those academies and proper care and education at those clubs, I find nothing wrong with kids chasing their dreams by moving abroad.

    Awareness being key, what effect does the Barcelona case have on it? Very little, in my opinion. Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that this news reaches an African parent of an aspiring footballer. They watch us attacking Barca who defend themselves by telling everyone that they take good care of their kids. And since that defence is not being disputed, what does the parent think? Remaining in the dark about the dangers that might befall their kid, all they would see is a club having broken a technical rule. They end up believing that there is no risk involved.

    Their belief is both right and wrong. Right, in the sense that Barcelona or a club of similar means will provide for their kid and wrong, as many small clubs do not have the means to do so and in certain cases, the ‘trial at Metz or PSG’ was pure fiction from the agents. Barcelona are not at the centre of this and our focus should be broader.

  23. No coincidence the Barca-Arca kit advertises the “Qatar Foundation”
    There used to be a time the Catalans were always ethical people
    Or maybe Barca-Arca does not represent its own people anymore

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