The president of a football club in Champassak province is asking the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to officially visit the club to find out the truth about their African footballers.

The president of IDSEA Champassak United Mr Phonesavanh Khewlavong told Vientiane Times last Sunday that the BBC should have contacted his club after interviewing an African man before publishing the news headline ‘Underage African footballers ‘trafficked’ to Laos on its website (Underage African footballers ‘trafficked’ to Laos) on July 21.

“I was really disappointed that the footballer Kessely Kamara complained without telling them the truth which got the story picked up by other media in Africa and in this region who brought it to public attention in their countries, making people around the world misunderstand us,” he said.

He added that he tried his best to help them by using his own funds and some sponsorship but in the end all he got was the world complaining about him.

The club arranged a press conference with local media in their premises on July 26 to explain so that at least the local people could understand what he had done for these African people.

The press conference reported that the president of the football club really loved his football and his dream is to build football in the province to be more colourful and enjoyable than usual. That is the reason why he set up the team and became a sponsor for these players.

Early this year some African countries faced the Ebola problem so IDSEA Champassak United got the idea to help them with a project under the theme ‘Escape Ebola, travel to Laos and find opportunities for a better life’.

The club assigned Mr Alexander Nesta Karmo, one of the club’s footballers and trainers, to cooperate with the new trainer Mr Wleh Bedell to find and select footballers from Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to bring to the club if they were big and strong, skillful and had good footballing techniques. It would have been great if they could get national footballers but ideally they shouldn’t have a manager or contact with another football club.

Then the company sent some money to them after selection there. Finally, both trainers got 35 African people including two professional footballers, 31 students learning football, one manager and one chef as other selections for the football club.

Alexander Nesta Karmo said he asked Mr Phonesavanh before bringing them to Champassak whether Laos would allow them to come in because of the disease. He explained that Laos was the first country in the world to except them at that time under the programme of Mr Phonesavanh.

“I can confirm that our friend who gave the information to the BBC was not telling the truth. We are here today because he has taken very good care of us,” he explained.

He added some neighbouring countries in the region where he used to play couldn’t do anything like this for him.

For almost two months the African footballers stayed in Champassak province, supported by the IDSEA football club, and finally 16 of them were selected to play for the club with the 15 others sent home including Kessely Kamara and the new coach Wleh Bedell who had broken the rules of the club.

“The football club wasn’t pressured by FIFA to send those 15 footballers home like the BBC reported, we just didn’t select them. And before the flight home we also arranged a good place for them with three meals a day,” said Mr Phonesavanh.

The club reported they had a programme to take them to visit tourism sites in the province and elsewhere during their two month stay as well as arranging accommodation for them three kilometres from the city centre but they just wanted to stay under the stadium due to its central location and convenience.

The President of IDSEA Champassak United Mr Phonesavanh said that he repaired the place, cleaned and installed some conveniences for them as they were guests in the programme.

“Footballer Kamara said to the BBC that he had a contract with us but was never paid any money. How can we issue a contract for a player if we don’t know whether or not we can accept him into the team. We just made a request to the Lao Football Federation asking for the issue of an ID card for him to play in the Lao Premiere League 2015 because he asked us to do this,” he explained.

Mr Phonesavanh added that Kamara wanted us to make some video clips of him playing in the Premier League in Laos to promote himself on youtube, that’s the reason. So we put him into two games in the league and made video clips of them as he asked.

Captain of the IDSEA Asia-Africa academy Mr Joseph Broh said he was sorry that the Lao people had to hear what some foreign media was saying about their country. It was simply because some of our friends decided to go back to Africa, which became a problem because the BBC only got one side of the story.

“Now we have 16 African people living here in the club and every month we get about US$100 but it relates to our performance, some will get US$200, US$300, US$400 others more in the future,” he said.

He added that the assistance being provided to the African players was not the only development work done by the club. They also trained under 12 and under 14 Lao players on a regular basis and had 158 of them on their books.

Adulp Hus Mutu Blamo from Liberia said that when they arrived in Laos they were apprehensive but then found it to be normal, like anywhere else. Our future we hope will be as professional players. Our stay in Laos has improved from the first day we arrived.

We have received good hospitality, staying in a hotel for four nights, then we moved to the stadium where we were training. The club has prepared an apartment for us but here the stadium is free and comfortable so we decided to stay, training and doing everything around here. Laos is a beautiful country, no problem, we love the people and the people love us too. I played football in my country before coming here.

Ms Rita Nimely from Liberia said she cooked for the Africans here, making their own food the way they want it, as it’s not available in Laos otherwise. It is quality food which they eat three times a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sufficient for their needs. If there’s something they don’t like and want to have a change I report it to the boss and they get something else. They eat well.

She added that she was very happy to be here. The boss tries to help us, so we come to try and help the club. The players are happy so I don’t see any problems here.

Mr Phonesavanh ended the press conference by saying that he would like the BBC to come here to see all the evidences he has and the support he gets from the players. It has involved a large amount of money, as all big clubs have to pay for players in the Lao Premier League, but it was also something he wanted to do, to help other people who were facing difficulties at the time.

“But the feedback from some of them is very different from the reality of what I have done for them,” he said.

He explained that the news ‘expose’ had brought disgrace to the team but not only just them but all Lao people in particular those living in Champassak province.

“Anyone involved in human trafficking would not show the care I have given to these footballers. If I was a trafficker why would I be paying for all these extras and pay to bring them here to help develop them in football,” Mr Phonesavanh asked.

He also posed the rhetorical question of “which team in Laos can buy them and how much can they pay for foreign footballers to help their team?”

Mr Phonesavanh ended the conference saying that he wanted the BBC to publicly retract their article on the club and set the record straight because we are Lao people, the character of Lao people would never think and do like was suggested, inviting them here and then abandoning them without care or support.

Source: Vientiane Times
Published on July 29, 2015