Child footballers ‘offered boots for sex work’
The shocking revelation of an illicit sex network operated at one of Argentina’s most prestigious and successful clubs was made after a 17-year-old told an Independiente psychologist he had been encouraged, alongside another 19-year-old player, to prostitute himself to adult men in a trendy Buenos Aires neighborhood, local press said.
Public prosecutor Maria Soledad Garibaldi has asked to meet all 50-plus boys aged between 13 and 19 housed at a boarding facility operated by the club in the Avellaneda suburb of the sprawling Argentine capital.
“Of the five boys I spoke with [on March 26), three gave me some information,” said Garibaldi, quoted by local press.
“One of them told me it didn’t happen, but that they had been approached. The children knew something was going on.
“They’ve allowed me to reveal that they were offered to do it for a pair of boots or underwear.”
Football referee Martin Bustos and his lawyer have been arrested over the scandal, which was brought to the judicial authorities’ attention by Independiente club bosses. Bustos’s lawyer is suspected of having destroyed a mobile phone in order to hide evidence.
According to Garibaldi, there might also be similar underage prostitution networks operated at other clubs. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t surprise me,” admitted Independiente coach Ariel Holan. “It’s something that’s hidden and it’s a problem in society, like drugs, alcohol and human trafficking. It’s not an issue that’s confined to sport or to Independiente.”
According to Andres Bonicalzi, a lawyer for a rape victims charity, young players from the vast interior of the country - well away from Buenos Aires on the western shore of the Rio de la Plata estuary - who are far from their families, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
“They see the club as a role-model, they see it as a father-figure. They’re far away from their own fathers,” said Bonicalzi.
“[The perpetrators] have exploited their immaturity and these children’s need to belong to something.”
Independiente is the fourth most successful team in Argentine history with 16 national titles, behind fellow River Plate, Boca Juniors and Racing.