20 April 2012

Shame on Vasco

From the Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO - Vasco da Gama has been ordered by a juvenile justice judge to immediately suspend activities at its youth training facilities because an investigation found teenage footballers were living in "slave-like" conditions.
Judge Ivone Ferreira Caetana issued the ruling on Wednesday in response to charges by state prosecutors who have been looking into conditions at the club's main youth facilities in Sao Januario since 2009.
It was only in February, after a 14-year-old boy died while trying out in Itaguai, a more remote training centre, that investigators even learned of the existence of that facility, which housed dozens of boys aged from 13 to 17.
Since then, they've learned there were no doctors available on site when the boy, Wendel Venancio da Silva, died.
In an investigation since then, prosecutors found the boys were lodged in deplorable conditions and not fed enough as they were pushed through a grueling routine that left them with little time for school, said main prosecutor Clisanger Ferreira Goncalves in a statement.
In addition to denouncing the teenagers' poor housing and nutrition and their strenuous schedule, prosecutors also charged the club with transporting the teenagers in an unsafe vehicle, failing to provide them with medical care, and exposing them to unsanitary facilities.
"The decision was made to safeguard the most fundamental rights of dozens of the teenagers, aged 13 through 17, who are being violently disrespected by the club," the judge said. "The conditions these children are exposed to are slave-like."
Calls and an email requesting comment from Vasco got no response.
As of Thursday, Vasco had five days to start improving the situation. If the judge's orders are not followed within 30 days, the club faces a fine of $16,000 a day.
In the meantime, the club is prohibited from using the facilities at Itaguai for training or housing young players.
The judge ruled that youths should eat with the professional players, and be trained at Sao Januario, where the facilities were better but needed to be fixed in five days. The problems at Sao Januario include dorm rooms without ventilation, old and torn mattresses, and water rationing.
About 20 teenagers are from other states and have difficulty seeing their families because the club won't pay for their transportation. This also must be changed, the court said.
Prosecutor Goncalves has been involved with the investigation of Sao Januario for three years. She spent the last year negotiating terms of improvement with the club in meetings often attended by the president, Roberto Dinamite.
She thought the club had agreed to improve conditions when 14-year-old Silva died at the Itaguai site, which had never been disclosed to prosecutors.
"The conditions at the Sao Januario training centre were not ideal, but we made suggestions and thought they were being followed," she said in a statement. "But they were lying, and using the Itaguai site. What we found there is an affront to the basic rights of children and teenagers."
Exploitation of young players with dreams of making it big was a common phenomenon in Brazil, but one that's never been addressed by FIFA or by the clubs that benefit from the sales of these young players, said Christopher Gaffney, a Brazil-based academic who has written about local football.
"The economy of football depends on unpaid adolescent labour," Gaffney said. "This is a global phenomenon that the Brazilian clubs exploit to their advantage."
Other big clubs in Rio are also under scrutiny, prosecutors said.
Flamengo was facing an investigation after a 14-year-old hurt himself within their facilities. Botafogo and Fluminense are faced administrative inquiries into the conditions of their youth training centres.
In five days, a team of social workers, psychologists and law enforcement officials will visit Vasco's training grounds to check on progress.

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