While African governments are still struggling to allocate enough funds and attention to their athletes, some figured out a way to reach for their dreams by changing nationality and thus competing for other countries, which in return offer them the best pay and treatment.
However, a recent report by the Guardian reveals that sometimes, in the quest for greener pasture, these athletes are merely jumping from frying pan to fire as they end up in these adopted countries as sporting slaves.
According to the report, rich Arabian and Middle Eastern countries come to Africa to scout talent that can represent them in international competitions. And, after making mouth-watering promises to get them to agree, these athletes are "routinely mistreated, denied prize money, and sometimes housed in filthy conditions."
For example, Lily Abdullayeva, who was one of the brightest athletes in Ethiopia, was approached by a Turkish coach who persuaded her to switch allegiance to Azerbaijan. She was allegedly promised $300 a month (rising to $1,000 if she performed well), a house and, expensive cars, but she never got those.
Instead, her prize money was stolen and she was allegedly tricked into taking drugs. She left the country after four years.
Kenyan distance runner, Leonard Mucheru, has a similar story. He moved to Bahrain in 2003, but after spending a few months there, he realized that the promises made to him were never going to be fulfilled. In his own words:
"They promised that once we changed citizenship we would get a contract but we never signed anything so there was nothing binding and no regulations. I got injured in 2006 and went a full year without being paid by the Bahrain Athletics Federation."
A troubling trend
According to The Guardian, all Olympic medals ever won by Bahrain were won by Africans. In addition, former Kenyan athletes won medals for Turkey at the European championships in Amsterdam last year. So it's safe to conclude that there could be more stories like Abdullayeva and Mucheru’s out there.
With the economic and political distractions that African countries are facing, the governments may not effectively put measures in place to stop this heinous modern-day slavery. But, whatever the reaction of African leaders to this revelation, African sportsmen and women need to be more careful as rich countries dangle carrots in front of them.