Blog Sports Law 15th Feb 2021

Does Sport have a problem with Human Trafficking?

The news that Amad Diallo, Manchester United’s recent teenage signing from Atalanta in Serie A, has been fined £42,000 by the Italian Football Federation [FIGC] for using false immigration documents to enter Italy in 2010 shocked me on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to begin, but I’ll try.

First, of all, Diallo who was born in Ivory Coast in July 2002 is just 18.  Which means that when he entered Italy on the documentation in question in 2010 he was 8 years’ old; and when he signed for his first professional team, using that paperwork, in 2015 he was only 13; and just 16 when he signed for Atalanta in 2018.  He was a child throughout the entire period in question.

Second, the investigation (initially a criminal one before being taken over by the FIGC) centred on a child-trafficking ring which had smuggled the then 8 year old Diallo and his then 10 year old brother into Italy in 2008.  So not just a child, but a trafficked child.

And third, Diallo (and his brother, also a professional footballer in Serie A) are reported to have agreed a plea bargain with the FIGC, apparently in order to avoid a suspension.  It would appear therefore that he and his brother have been advised to enter into a deal, notwithstanding that they were the victims of human trafficking when children.

It is inconceivable that such a ‘prosecution’ either in a criminal or a regulatory sphere would take place in this jurisdiction.  In England and Wales, the relevant legislation is The Modern Slavery Act 2015 which consolidated existing offences of human trafficking and slavery and encompassed trafficking for all forms of exploitation.

However, it is unarguable that the ‘prosecution’ ought never to have taken place in Italy either given the raft of international protocols and policies designed to prevent human trafficking and protect those who are trafficked especially vulnerable persons such as women and children.

The UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, adopted in 2000 defines human smuggling as “… the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national”.

The Palermo Protocol which came into force in September 2003 provided the first internationally recognised definition of human trafficking[1]; by the way, the last time I checked Palermo was still in Italy, so one might have thought that the Italian authorities would have been aware of that one.

The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, came into force in December 2003.  It was the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons in order to support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking.  An additional objective of the Protocol was to protect and assist the victims of trafficking in persons with full respect for their human rights.

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings was implemented in April 2009.  This introduced a number of provisions to improve the ability to identify victims, refer them to appropriate support and bring more cases to justice. The provisions include mechanisms for early identification of victims, national referral schemes, and the granting of recovery and reflection periods and renewable residence permits to victims.

Quite how, in the face of all of the above the Italian Football Federation could consider it appropriate to prosecute an 18 year old for offences committed when he was a trafficked child beggars belief.  But, arguably, what is even more shocking is that those representing Diallo appear to have advised him not to contest the allegations notwithstanding that he was the victim.

Whilst this may be an isolated, even an extreme, example of how sport treats children there are lessons to be learnt far and wide, not just in Italy, from what is on the face of it a betrayal of the rights of the child.


Brian O’Neill QC


[1] “Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control of another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.


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