Wed, May

Griffith: Two national youth footballers stranded in UK, arm of human trafficking.

COMMISSIONER of Police Gary Griffith says he is liaising with the TT Football Association's (TTFA) normalisation committee and the Ministry of National Security to ensure the safe arrival of two youth team footballers who were lured and left "stranded" abroad with the pretext of lucrative contracts.

Griffith, whose son Gary Griffith III, is a national men's team player, warned parents that agents and scouts will likely discard their teenage prospects, leaving them in the streets to find their way home, if they don't "cut it" on trials at clubs.

Speaking at the police media briefing on Thursday, the commissioner said, "This can be seen as an arm of human trafficking and it is something we need to look at." He said both the regional and global governing bodies for football are aware of this.

Neither Griffith nor the TTFA named the players or which clubs the agents tried to have them sign for. The commissioner, however, said he was made aware of the problem a week ago and the players in question represented T&T's youth teams.

"Some of them were offered the world and they were sent to the Middle East and for over a year they still cannot get back home," he revealed. "The accommodation was similar to indentured labour.

"There was nowhere to sleep, they weren't getting meals and they were just cast on the streets. They actually had to hitch a ride to London and I'm now in contact with them.

"FIFA and Concacaf are also fully aware of the situations around the world... I will now be liaising with the normalisation committee and to ensure that all young footballers (do not follow suit), because these so-called scouts and agents – if they get a cut, fine, if they don't, well that's the end of them...You have to find your way back home."

The normalisation committee, which replaced the elected executive under FIFA's orders, is headed by businessman Robert Hadad.

Griffith said the UK and Ireland are also "fully aware" of the issue of human trafficking in sport, highlighting measures taken in their respective football leagues to combat it, like the rule which restricts clubs from signing more than three foreign players between 18 and 21, along with other criteria.

"There is a reason they have done this. It is not just to protect British football, but also to prevent problems they saw with minors being abused by scouts or agents."

He highlighted an incident in which a foreign player got involved with Manchester City Academy and after failing to "cut it", the player ended his life when he was sent home.

"There have been reports all around the world of hundreds of young persons who (have been) lured by scouts, especially from Asia, Africa and in the Caribbean, in the hope that he will get it, and if he gets it, then he (an agent) would get a cut.

"But then, on most occasions, the clubs will then discard them and we have many minors end up on the streets throughout the world because of the hope and the dream to be a world-class footballer."

Griffith said a system is needed where all young minor footballers invited to trials abroad do so through the TTFA's normalisation committee to verify information about the clubs that the players may not be inclined to seek, as well as to ensure they are accommodated, fed and have a ticket to return home.

"If this is not done, this can be seen as human trafficking, because you're now trying to utilise a human being for your own value, at the expense of the well-being of that minor."

Newsday tried unsuccessfully several times to reach Hadad for his reaction to Griffith's revelations and to ask if he would consider implementing the commissioner's suggestion that minor players register with the TTFA before going for trials overseas.