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Rodrigue Ogoula: "I escaped from a fake football camp in the middle of the night"

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Rodrigue Ogoula is a professional footballer from Gabon. He shared his experiences with FIFPRO warning fellow players about a fake football academy in Turkey called CampProfi.

By Rodrigue Ogoula

My story is that of many African players who have decided to make football their profession and are not offered a future playing in their own country. They have no recognised status, no regular salary, but they continue to dream of a career.

I am now 23. I abandoned my studies to devote myself to football back home in Gabon. I signed for AS Stade Mandji, a great club. But the adverse effects of the global health crisis led to the suspension of competitions in our country, where football – already hard hit by severe economic problems – has always been in a ruinous state.

So, in the 2021/22 season, I decided to try my luck in Togo; at Gomido FC, a first-division club. I was playing but I needed to go further afield to reach a higher level.

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Rodrigue Ogoula in action

It was on Facebook that I first heard about a camp near Istanbul, Turkey called CampProfi. For 2,000 euros they offered a course of training and some friendly matches played in front of club scouts and agents. Of course, the plane ticket and visa fees were extra, but the offer seemed interesting enough for me to talk to one of my elder brothers about it. He liked the project and decided to help me by paying for my journey.

Having amicably terminated my contract with the Togolese club, I returned to Gabon to complete the administrative procedures and, in February 2022, I left for Turkey with high hopes.

I landed in Istanbul at 4am. As agreed, someone was waiting for me at the airport and we set off at once for the camp. When we got there, I had my first surprise: I felt as though I’d arrived at a holiday camp.

I very soon came across players, including some from Gabon, who were surprised to see me there. They explained to me how the camp worked, set up at the facilities of Kartal SK, a Turkish sixth-division club. Their message was clear: the training sessions were bogus, the matches were pointless, the videos and contacts were just a bluff to keep your hopes up and ask for more money.

Players who demanded accountability were side-lined, no longer trained, had to fend for themselves to eat and were stuck inside the camp, because you had to pay them before they would agree to let you leave. It brought me down to earth with a bump.

When they came to ask me for the 2,000 euros, although I had all the money on me, I replied that I had to contact a friend who was going to provide me with the full amount, as I thought it was more sensible not to travel with so much money. I was then shown the way out: “Come back when you’ve got the money!”

It was about 8pm when I left the camp. I got in touch with a friend who lived in Istanbul and he agreed to put me up. He lived a long way away, so I took a taxi. My spirits were at rock bottom. I spent two nights at his place, thinking about what to do next.

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Rodrigue Ogoula (left) at the camp

Meanwhile, and I don’t know how this can be explained, one of the people at the camp, a Cameroonian who had originally come as a player but didn’t make the grade professionally and had been taken on as a staff member, managed to get hold of my friend and then my elder brother to persuade them that it was important for me to come back to the camp. And he succeeded.

Under pressure from my friend and elder brother, I agreed to return to the camp and to hand over the 2,000 euros they’d demanded from me as soon as I arrived.

I started training. I very soon realised that the person acting as coach was a player from Kartal SK. He knew nothing about coaching. Fortunately, the other players and I managed to organise ourselves to work as correctly as possible.

As for friendlies, we only played against Kartal SK, and when we asked the people in charge, the answer was always the same: "We haven’t been able to interest any professional teams for the moment, but it’ll come, you can count on it." But it never happened.

Time passed and caught up with me. The contract I’d signed, the 2,000 euros I’d spent, only covered a training period of a month. That was when things changed. My elder brother, who wanted me to continue, tried to strike a deal: 1,000 euros straight away and another 1,000 once I’d signed for a club. From the first training session, I was side-lined. They kept telling me that I had to pay. Then, for as long as the money wasn’t paid, I was barred from training, my equipment was taken away, and I was no longer allowed to have meals. All I had left was my bed.

The weeks passed. I knew my return ticket had expired, but that was not the main problem for me or the other players who were left to their own devices, like me, and who were looking for a way out. After what seemed like an eternity, a certain Mustapha took all my belongings, shouted that he didn’t want to see me again, and punched me. The other players around me were afraid. He continued attacking me, but I didn’t fall for his game and refused to fight. So, they started two at a time, then three, backed up by what seemed to be a policeman. They wanted to frighten me. It was clearly not the first time they had done this to a player.

I waited until night-time and left that damned camp, helped by a guy from Benin who had been through the same misfortune, and then took refuge with a Gabonese student. It was from his place that I began to tell my story on Facebook. A blogger, who was touched by my account, shared it, giving it a large enough audience to be read in Africa and Europe. That was when Remy Ebanega, President of the National Association of Professional Footballers of Gabon, contacted me. Then, FIFPRO’s legal department took it from there. I finally made it home to Gabon.

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Rodrigue Ogoula with Lozo Sport

After a long period of waiting, I found another club at the beginning of this season, signing for Lozo Sport. But the realities of football in our country caught up with me. No wages for eight months and the championship interrupted again...

These days, football seems a long way away. I take odd jobs here and there; to eat, to survive. And nothing else... like the worst moments I experienced at the Turkish camp. But now I’m free and I still have hope of doing the job I love: being a professional footballer.