The problem of human trafficking through football, also known as football trafficking, has been covered in the media for almost 10 years. In Soka Afrika, Suridh Hassan puts together a sensitive portrayal of 2 teenage footballers trying to make a career in Europe in 2009. However, I do not recommend this documentary because it puts a good face on bad agents and furthers the myth of sports as a key way out of poverty.
In the film, then 19 -year-old Kermit Erasmus gets some success playing for South Africa at the U20 World Cup in Egypt, and in fact, he is still playing today. On the other hand is the case of 17-year-old Cameroonian Ndomo Sabo, who at 15 was trafficked to Paris. Sabo is rescued by fellow Cameroonian Jean Claude Mbvoumin, of Foot Solidaire. The film stresses that most agents in Africa are trafficking players instead of helping them, but Erasmus is making strides because he is lucky to have an honest agent, Ashley Kotzin of Forwardzone.
Director Hassan presents the boys’ stories with positive outcomes, but Hassan is more artist than investigative journalist. As a result, we are all misinformed.
In my research, I discovered that a few years after the film, benefactor Jean Claude Mbvoumin was exposed as conducting the same human trafficking scam from which he was “rescuing” kids in Paris. His French NGO disappeared, and Mbvoumin moved back to Cameroon, where he conducts youth soccer tournaments under the Foot Solidaire name. It is actually not easy to find Ed Hawkins’ exposé articles, but give them a read. He has published many more details in his excellent 2015 book “The Lost Boys: Inside Football’s Slave Trade” .
Problems with Forwardzone
On the South African side, after the U20 WC, Ashley Kotzin signed at least 6 of the starting 11 players from the team. But the year after the film, Erasmus was recorded blaming Kotzin for doing little for his career. He urged footballers to learn from his experience and instead find a good agent who puts in the work and represents their interests.
Following up on Forwardzone, it appears that today their main output is offering seminars, providing a window into African football, and linking sponsors (gambling company Betway) to Ghanian clubs. Kotzin is opening offices in New Zealand and the USA (Phoenix, AZ). I hope players will read this article before signing with Forwardzone. Also note that as of Jun-2018, Kotzin is not a registered agent with USSoccer. Read the blustery verbiage from their LinkedIn profile:
“Forwardzone is a Football Strategy and Advisory business that specializes in providing world class expertise and high impact strategic solutions that simultaneously stretch brands into the realm of football and create shared value for our clients and their consumers alike. Our specialization in the niche field of football has made us the go-to experts for influential and measurable football strategies and unique solutions. Our know-how extends from recruiting young talented football athletes – this includes our extensive knowledge and skills in grassroots and youth development initiatives – to providing consulting and management services where we advise our top blue-chip corporate sponsors in how to develop smart and relevant strategic solutions with high impact that will ensure their brands continue to thrive and prosper.”
Better information sources on football trafficking
The other problem with Soka Afrika is that, while it shows the effect of trafficking and corruption on trafficking victim Sabo, with Erasmus it furthers the myth that African players can make it in Europe with the right agent. A better film to watch about trafficking through football is the 2010 exposé Soccer’s Lost Boys. Or, read my post on The Problems with Football Agents. Football trafficking continues today, as documented by Ali Ferhat for DW and the NGO Samilia, which is trying to help victims marooned in Belgium.
Other side effects of big money games
One unique aspect of the film is its coverage of Benjamin Mahatiane, who runs a little youth club in South Africa called Rockville Mighty Lions. Their facility gets torn up for WC 2010 proceedings, which is similar to what happened to the youth club Santa Clara Sporting in preparation for Super Bowl 50 held in 2016 at Levi’s Stadium.
As far as soccer footage, there is game film from the South African and Cameroon games at the U20 World Cup. However, in the movie, they say that Sabo did not get to play for Cameroon because he could not pay the 5,000 Euros that the managers required for him to be put on the roster. The level of corruption in soccer is very sad.
5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5