Friday, 15 February 2008

The European trade in African footballers

There was a story in the news last week about young African footballers in Europe. It is a story which comes up occasionally: teenagers or their families pay agents in Africa on the understanding that they will transport them to Europe, and then arrange for them to play with a European team. The story sounds unlikely, but may be plausible to poor Africans unfamiliar with the recruitment practices of European clubs. The teenagers are often abandoned on European streets.

The largest European clubs could help by making it clear how they recruit, and by expanding regional African centres for training players as the transit points for skilled under 18s looking for a future in Europe, and by sending information to local youth clubs.

Another step towards a solution is to use an adjusted form of contract to slow the flow of players between the continents and reduce their resale value to European clubs. A side benefit could be to significantly increase export earnings for their countries of origin. The contracts would make it mandatory for clubs employing players of African origin to pay a percentage, say five or ten percent, of all future resale amounts for an African player to their original club or their national sporting federation if they were not employed in Africa. Such contract conditions are not uncommon already among European clubs selling a youth player to a bigger team. The European, African, or World governing bodies could encourage their adoption.

Whether the contract adjustment would work depends on the price elasticities of supply and demand for African footballers. If the supply of young African footballers is comparatively inelastic in response to their expected price, but the demand for them is elastic, then the number of young African players recruited into European clubs will decline, although the African origin countries would be likely to see an increase in export revenues from their sale. These conditions may arise if for instance the pre-adjustment expected amounts are already large enough to attract the footballers, but the European clubs consider the money earned at resale to be an important part of their worth.

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