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Racism, lost salaries and preventable tragedies: The dark side of being a football import

Lost in the glare of the big-name foreign arrivals that have lit up Southeast Asian football are others who will sadly be remembered for all the wrong reasons, or tragically those who may not be remembered at all.

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He could no longer afford medical treatment for what was an easily treatable ailment after not getting paid by his Indonesian club

For all the Michael Essiens and Robbie Fowlers of the region, there are others whose memory should not be allowed to be forgotten – those who may have died in tragic circumstances lost in a web of mismanagement, politics or often downright corruption that continues to strangle football right across Southeast Asia.

In the past half-decade alone the heartbreaking stories of Solomon Begondo, Sekou Camara, Diego Mendieta, Bruno Zandonardi and Wilson Mene Weyinmi are already starting to fade – five players who left their homes and families to play football abroad and who returned not in the glare of fame, but rather in a casket.

The story of Paraguayan Mendieta garnered global attention when he died in 2012.

He could no longer afford medical treatment for what was an easily treatable ailment after not getting paid by his Indonesian club, Peris Solo, a death that the Asian Players Union, FIFPro Asia, called a “disgrace for football”.

Tragically he’s not alone as Camara died of a heart attack after not being paid for close to a year by two different clubs in Indonesia, an unacceptable situation that surely couldn’t have helped his condition.

It's not only the big-name imports that should be remembered. Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

Begondo was also reportedly forced to play local cash-in-hand games as he wasn’t paid for months before he too passed away in Indonesia, as did Zandonardi who died from an infection while fighting for unpaid wages  - also in Indonesia.

The Nigerian forward Weyinmi was a 25-year-old who collapsed during a match for his Cambodian club Prek Pra FC in 2010 and died shortly after his arrival at a local hospital.

Many more players silently accept their fate and the poor conditions they’re often forced to live, train and play in

Witnesses at the match alleged a lengthy delay in having medical assistance reach the player contributed to his death, a tragedy that Ken Gadaffi, the then-President of the Nigerian Community Association believed was also caused by inadequate conditions.

Speaking on Australian radio shortly after the death, Gadaffi said: “There are questions to how he has been feeding, has he been receiving the right nutrition to withstand the rigours of playing on such an intense condition.”

These are only the headline-grabbing cases but there are many, many more players who silently accept their fate and leave the poor conditions they’re often forced to live, train and play in and return home – empty handed – just to escape with their dignity and their lives.

The late Sekou Camara

In more than a decade-and-a-half of covering Asian football, this reporter has seen and heard these stories far too many times to mention, right across the continent.

And little is being done to prevent often unscrupulous agents bringing players to these parts – often from Africa – and then leaving them to fend for themselves as offers of trials or contracts dry up. That’s often where the problems start.<--pagebreak-->

[NEXT: The scourge of racism rears its ugly head]