Relax! This isn’t going to be another one of those interminable “goal-line technology” debates that seem to take place every time the ball gets near the net. This is actually an example of FIFA embracing the modern world in a way that should benefit a group of people who are a lot less influential than some of the oil rich nations that it is so often accused of being in thrall to.
When it was first introduced in October 2010 (after an extended trial) the “Transfer Matching System” (TMS) was mostly reported in the Western media as a way of cracking down on money laundering and the kind of contract clauses that made the Tevez and Mascherano transfers so infuriatingly complex, but TMS actually has an even more important role than that. It is a fully online system that is an attempt to be the first step in eliminating what amounts to child trafficking between Africa and Europe.
Young footballers in Africa who see stars such as Didier Drogba and Michael Essien earning millions of dollars can’t help but imagine themselves being in the same position, and this has led to the rise of two distinct dangers for both them and their families. Firstly a huge number of unlicensed academies have sprung up over the Continent where unscrupulous, and untrained, coaches sign boys as young as seven to strictly binding contracts in the hope that they can make their fortune by “owning” the next African star. Needless to say these contracts offer little of benefit to the children involved.
The second danger comes from “agents” who promise the boy a place in a European soccer academy and then proceed to extort the travel costs and more from a family that desperately wants the best for their son. Even if the promised academy exists it will not be officially sanctioned and, with no funds to return home, the boys often find themselves selling cheap goods, or worse, on the streets of Europe. The charity “Foot Solidaire” estimates that there are 7,000 such children on the streets of France alone.
So how will the TMS help? It will ensure that the signing of any player under the age of 18 is accompanied by up to thirty verified online documents that will determine that not only is the transfer legitimate but that parental permission has been received, it also stipulates that the parents of any under 18-year-old are required to live in the same country as the team that their son has signed for. Additionally any transfer involving a player under 18 must be considered by a FIFA committee that will verify all aspects of the proposed deal before giving their approval.
Perhaps equally importantly it will also ensure that African clubs will receive proper compensation for the work that they have put in should one of their players sign for a European team, allowing the legitimate coaches and youth development systems to benefit from their endeavours rather than seeing their charges snatched away with no return.
Of course it would be naive to assume that this will eliminate the problem of the exploitation of African children overnight, but by gradually increasing funding for official academies and making the profit from the buying and selling of youngsters much harder to come by it is a huge step in the right direction.
FIFA gets a lot of criticism (and rightly so) but in this case at least it has embraced technology to try to achieve something that is far more important than determining whether a ball has crossed a line.
You can find more of Russell’s writings on soccer at The Vancouver Sun.
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