New theatre play exposes realities of football migration from Africa

A new football- theatre work " Michael Essien, I want to play as you " from the view of African migrants trying to pursue a future in European football, will premiere next month at the opening ceremony of the 2013 European Capital of Sport, in Antwerp, Belgium.

The play directed by Australian artist Ahilan Ratnamohan and performed by Nigerian and Cameroonian footballers explores the mixed feelings of hope and desperation of African football migrants trying to make a living from football. The performers’ life experiences in becoming professional players in a foreign country are coupled to the play's choreography.

The project started in 2010, when Ahilan and his partner, Daisy Wouters, travelled through Africa and Europe in an attempt to understand what they see as the “the football slave-trade” market, and other issues related to migration and football in general.

The financial appeal of football alongside with the growing success of African players in Europe has led many Africans to see football as a way out of poverty. However, the number of football-aspirants living in harsh conditions in foreign countries, while waiting for a contract, has increased.

According to Ahilan “one of the biggest discoveries in our research was the existence of football fields in various cities, where African footballers without contracts meet to train”. As a former footballer, the Australian artist began to train with the players in an attempt to better understand their experiences.

The FARE network welcomes the initiative with Programme Coordinator, Claudia Krobitzsch saying: “‘Michael Essien, I want to play as you’ is an innovative and creative way of raising awareness for the exploitation of aspiring African players who are hoping to find a better life in Europe.”

The project is supported by the CC Luchtbal, an Antwerp local cultural centre, IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) and the Australian theatre company Urban Theatre Projects.The play will be Ahilan's second work that approaches football as a form of art, the first one was “The Football Diaries” premiered in 2009 and toured in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup.

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