Football is more than a sport in Africa. It defines neighborhoods, strengthens tribes and, in extremes, unifies nations —bringing warring African countries to a temporary truce so that the game can be played. But over the last few decades, globalization has altered the traditions of the game, molding what once was the love of the sport into a means of escaping the continent to play professional football in Europe.
Every year, scores of African players are lured to Turkey amid a growing human trafficking scam. Spending their family’s savings on false agents, these men are trafficked to Istanbul, Turkey, led to believe that professional football teams await them. Abandoned in Turkey, these men struggle to assimilate: as they battle poverty, chronic unemployment, substandard living conditions and racism, they’re left to fight amongst themselves as the next round of players show up, bags and dreams in hand.
Since 2011, I’ve documented the plight of these players and their stories of resilience, perseverance, helplessness, and at worst, true hopelessness. With 90% of illegal immigrants passing through Turkey on their way to Europe, these Africans were looking to stay, attempting to establish a community within a country that didn’t want them. Though Turkey has a long history of hosting migrants, the players merely exist as shadows within the larger city of Istanbul, talented footballers left to fend for themselves in their new foreign land, an uneven staging ground with no civil liberties or rights allocated towards them.
What began as a story about African immigration has transcended into a photographic documentation about modern-day slavery and the trafficking of footballers for money. These men, many much older then their passports claim, live a life hidden from view, rarely leaving the safety of their community.
Together, these African footballers illustrate something broader and more damning: the cruel underbelly of professional sports in a world now more diverse and intermingled than some groups among us are willing to accept.
Jason Andrew is a documentary and portrait photographer with a focus on long-term projects exploring the social and political consequences of poverty and war. He was raised in Northern California and received a B.A. in History from San Diego State University before moving to New York City where he was a graduate of the International Center of Photography’s Documentary and Photojournalism program.
Since 2011, Jason has been documenting African football players in Turkey who were illegally trafficked into the country for his project “Black Diamonds.” This work was a finalist for the 2012 Oscar Barnack Award and won the PGB awards the same year. He has continued to document the transition of the players’ lives as many have left the game, only leaving a few who continue to play.
Jason’s clients include Capital, The Financial Times Weekend Magazine, HUCK, Leica Fotographie International, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal while his work has been awarded by American Photo, Magenta Foundation, PDN Photo among others.
Jason lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, Julie Hau and their grumpy old dog. When not on assignment or working on his long-term projects, he can be found surfing in Long Island or back home in California.