Jose Maria Rodriguez |
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (EFE).- “Gentlemen of football, I am an 11-year-old boy who wants to play.” Souleymane, who trains hard every week in a humble club in Tenerife, does not understand why they deny him the card he needs to play despite FIFA’s promises that he would deal with situations like his.
For this reason, he has written a letter to those who run world football from Zurich and they must approve his file in which he explains that he is desperate, that every week he asks if he can play, that he does not understand why it is always He stays in the stands while his friends compete… and he confesses to them what he thinks.
“The only difference I see between them and me is that I am black and I was born in Africa,” this child reproaches the organization that for years has taken “Say no to racism!” as its motto in all languages.
Souleymane is from Mali, he arrived in the Canary Islands two years ago by boat, alone, without any adult relatives. The name with which he appears in this report is not real, because his foster family in the Canary Islands prefers to keep him anonymous, but his letter is and the situation he is suffering from is shared by dozens of African children, all of them under the guardianship of the Canarian Government as helpless minors.
Elena Cotarelo, his foster mother, is not resigned to the fact that the child is consumed with sadness, and even less so that the seeds of mistrust towards institutions ignite in him. She is distraught and doesn’t know who else to turn to; therefore, she has decided to make the letter public.
This story comes from afar, from a FIFA regulation that, originally, was intended to protect children: it was, in short, to nip in the bud the desire of many professional clubs, Europeans in particular, to cheaply sign young promises of Latin America, Africa or Asia in search of a new Messi, which had led to an unethical trade in children.
This regulation never thought of the amateur clubs, which do not seek business, but only to build youth ranks and serve as social glue in their towns or neighborhoods, but it has a full impact on them in autonomous communities with many immigrant children such as the Canary Islands, Andalusia or Catalonia. ; and the reality is that no one has the capacity to battle against the federations, so they all resign themselves.
On November 8, FIFA announced a change in the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players that seemed to meet the request that came from Spain: The “humanitarian” exception, which had already been enabled for refugees, was extended to those children who “have been recognized as vulnerable and require the protection of the State”.
The news spread like wildfire through the neighborhood clubs of the Canary Islands, where it is rare to find a team that does not have a minor who has arrived in recent years in a boat in the youth categories. All these children are legally helpless minors, all are under the guardianship of the Canarian Government and all, or almost all, thought that day that the veto on the processing of their federative file would disappear.
“At home we all celebrate it, except my son,” confesses Elena Cotarelo. “He told me: I’m not going to celebrate anything until he can play.”
Souleymane tells it in his letter: «For a long time I have been asking every week if I was going to be able to play the next game. There was a moment when I thought that I was going to be able to play, that was when my mother handed in all the papers that the federation requested. I had my hopes up, but in the end FIFA told me no.”
What does FIFA play in all this? The children who have been caught up in this quagmire almost all train in amateur clubs, but, having been born in another country, registering them constitutes an international transfer, which literally has to be authorized at the organization’s headquarters in Switzerland.
This is generating surprising situations, such as that of SB, a child to whom FIFA wrote on January 13 to request not only a document that he had already provided, the declaration of abandonment that proves his status as a protected minor, but also an explanation of ” the reasons for the transfer of the player to Spain; for example, statement of the player and / or statement of his parents ».
“What transfer are they talking about?” Replies Reyes Martel, the juvenile judge who mediated at the time for FIFA to deal with this type of situation. «These children did not come to Spain to play football, nor are they with their parents. They came by boat, almost all thinking about working, and they are alone in centers or with foster families.
They start throwing in the towel
With the new regulations, Elena Cotarelo once again processed the Souleymane file request through the Tenerife Football Federation, including affidavits, proof of schooling and, above all, the certification from the Government of the Canary Islands that the child is under guardianship of the autonomous community. All in vain, because the child’s file was rejected again without explanation.
It is not the only case. Attest to this is Carlos Herrera, an educator in a home for minors in Gran Canaria who has found with these children the complement to his passion for football. A fan of UD Las Palmas, he has mediated so that several boys from his center, also from Mali, train with Unión Viera, UD Telde, San Juan or Panaderías Pulido, although he has not yet managed to get a file processed for him.
Like Elena Cotarelo, she returned to the charge after learning about the change in regulations, but to date, all the licenses that she has asked the Las Palmas Inter-island Federation to submit to FIFA “have been rejected without any kind of explanation.”
«The boys ask me every day what is happening and there is one that has already thrown in the towel and has stopped training. He says that we should not call him again until he can play, that he feels cheated… And I have no choice but to agree with him, I have been defending the institutions for too long and they have not complied, “says Herrera.
Others have had more luck, such as Omar, a youth player from UD Guía who has just been granted the card after a year and a half of waiting. They also asked him for an explanation of “his transfer from him.”
The club has published the handwritten letter on Twitter with its reasons: «I, Omar, declare that my parents are in Mali and I am not meeting them, because in Mali I had a very bad time, since there is a lot of war there, for that reason I came to the Canary Islands, to be able to have a better future.»
From example of integration to factory of frustration
Both the mother from Tenerife and the educator from Gran Canaria feel that a perverse effect is taking place: that sport, which has always been a channel for integration, has become, in the case of federated football, a factory of frustration, which destabilizes some boys and threatens to make a dent in their personality, at a very delicate moment in their development.
His complaint has the full support of the General Directorate for Children of the Government of the Canary Islands: «It is not fair. What happens violates the rights of these children, who feel excluded in their own team. It generates a lot of frustration », says the person in charge of it Iratxe Serrano, who has several cases like these on his table.
Judge Martel has contacted one of the FIFA lawyers in Zurich, who did not believe what the body itself is responding to these guys, so she trusts that everything is a matter of clarifying the norm or its criteria of application.
Meanwhile, Souleymane continues training with his club in La Laguna and practices non-stop with the ball on the terrace at home. His canary mother doesn’t know how much longer he can take before giving up, because all waiting for a child is a world. “I feel sad, sometimes I feel angry and sometimes I get angry with FIFA,” she says in her letter.