Alleged human trafficking at football academy “shocking”- Secretary of State

40 foreign boys removed from Riba de Ave academy, near Famalicão

Secretary of State for youth and sport João Paulo Correia has condemned as “unacceptable, shocking and reprehensible” the situation of alleged human trafficking in a football academy near Famalicão (Braga district).

He pledged to present a set of legislative proposals to address what he describes as a “scourge“.

He tells Lusa the government will take “immediate response measures” and has assured that “in the next National Sports Council, to be held on July 10, the government will present a set of proposals, some of them of a legislative nature, so that we can respond strongly and quickly to a scourge that insists on not abandoning our country and more specifically the sport”.

According to a source from SEF (foreigners and borders authority), around 40 boys from South America, Africa and Asia who ‘may have been victims of human trafficking’ have removed from the football academy in Riba de Ave, and placed in care institutions.

On Monday, SEF conducted searches at the academy, identifying 114 footballers in a context in which human trafficking may be at stake”, according to Lusa.

All the young men were ‘undocumented’ (without passports/ identity papers).

“Minors have to be protected by law, hence their removal from the academy”, stressed the source. “As for the older ones, they can decide what to do. If they are considered victims of human trafficking, they have the right to a residence permit”. 

Mário Costa, president of the general board of the Portuguese professional football league (LPFP), was one of those targeted in the searches. His behaviour has been condemned “on an ethical level” by secretary of State Correia, while his future as president is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the LPFP later today. (UPDATE: Mário Costa is no longer president of the federation. He is one of seven ‘official suspects’ in this case which has been dubbed “Operation EL Dourado”).

Says Lusa, “LPFP recalls the “principle of presumption of innocence”, stressing in an “uncompromising manner the principles of ethics and transparency of the institution”.​​​​​​​

With regard to the proposals to be presented to the Sports Council, which is the government’s consultation body for the area of sport, João Paulo Correia explained that these will focus on two areas.

“In a first area, it is necessary to create a radar that detects the emergence of this type of business, these are businesses that have to be previously authorised by the sports and State authorities, then we will see through which entities this will be done,” he said.

Correia said “the second area has to do with regulation and supervision and the automatic alerts that have to be produced for the entities that will supervise this type of situation”.

“So when there is an alert that a particular club, a particular academy has hosted a young person of another nationality, underage or overage, it must be checked immediately if the legal conditions are met regarding their stay and the minimum economic and social conditions for the young athlete to be in our country in accordance with their basic rights,” he told reporters.

Source material: LUSA.