BUENOS AIRES – Sexual abuse, theft, addiction, poverty, hunger, cold and overcrowded conditions are some of the hardships endured over the past 20 years by aspiring players who have lived at Argentine soccer club Independiente’s youth boarding house.
Those abuses have been brought to light thanks to a recently published book in the South American nation.
Francisco “Panqui” Molina and his brother Pedro Molina – journalists and fans of Independiente, one of Argentina’s most popular clubs – recount in “Alerta Rojo” (Red Alert) the ordeal of promising members of Independiente’s youth teams.
Despite the horrific details, the authors told EFE that the living conditions of these children have improved and ceased to be inhuman a few years ago.
Independiente, a team based in Greater Buenos Aires that holds the record for number of titles (seven) in Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club soccer tournament, has effected just two major sales of youth players over the past 15 years: Sergio Aguero (sold to Atletico Madrid) and Ezequiel Barco (to Atlanta United).
“They’re two oases in the middle of the desert. It’s hard to explain. Every once in a while kids appear who because of their very positive characteristics, or even their mental toughness, are able to overcome these situations,” Pedro Molina said.
The book contains distressing testimonials from individuals who have lived or worked in the boarding house over the past two decades.
In 2012, 82 children lived in the house even though its maximum capacity was just 55.
Some slept on mattresses on the floor. Drugs, violence, robberies were commonplace, and members of the team’s “barra brava” (a gang notorious for running a variety of rackets at soccer games) were often lurking around the premises.
Many of the youth players hid these details from their parents for fear of being kicked out of the club.
The authors also wrote about the sexual abuses suffered by several of the minors, crimes that came to light in March 2018 and led to the arrests of several men accused of paying Independiente youth players small amounts of money for sex.
One young player told of the abuse he suffered in meetings with the club’s psychologist, Ariel Ruiz, who explained to the Molina brothers that the abusers took advantage of the youths’ socio-economic needs.
Francisco Molina, however, said that conditions at Independiente’s boarding house have improved in recent years.