TIME Soccer

Nowhere to Go: Chronicling Soccer’s Human Trafficking Problem

Photographer Jason Andrew's "Black Diamonds" reveals the sordid underbelly of the world's most popular sport in Turkey and West Africa

Every four years, the World Cup draws unparalleled attention to soccer and its stars — the “beautiful game” played on its grandest stage for all to see. Far less attention is minded to those whose passion for the game has led to their exploitation.

In his series of photographs “Black Diamonds,” Jason Andrew chronicles the human trafficking of African soccer players from Nigeria to Istanbul by an assortment of scouts and unlicensed agents. These young athletes, largely under-informed and uneducated, are promised the opportunity to realize their dreams of becoming soccer stars — if their impoverished families are willing to pay fees that can exceed $5,000 to send them to Turkey. But instead of using their time in Turkey to kickstart successful soccer careers in top-tier European leagues, the players are typically abandoned shortly after their arrival and forced to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving land.

Since 2011, Andrew has followed the journeys of these young men, many of whom end up destitute and desperate for whatever work they are able to find. Some have returned home to West Africa, more have remained in Turkey, sharing apartments and jobs with others lured north under false pretenses, but very few have found even a fraction of the glory and riches once promised.

The problem is a growing one. Jean Claude Mbvoumin of the Foot Solidaire group, a charity whose goal is to protect young African soccer players, estimated that as many as 15,000 soccer-playing African youths were emigrating under what can only be described as the falsest of pretenses, and that number shows no sign of shrinking. Nearly every day more of these young players arrive in Turkey, just as their predecessors’ visas expire.

“Black Diamonds” highlights a few of these exploited players, tracking their attempts to fulfill the dreams that had once been promised them — the same dreams that others have been living at this summer’s World Cup. For these exploited soccer players, however, the path forward is far less certain.

All photographs by Jason Andrew.

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