Eight footballers from Zimbabwe, aged between 16 and 22, were trapped in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for almost four months. They were part of a group of 17 that travelled with former Zimbabwe international Archford Gutu’s football academy.
They were fed false promises of playing several matches in UAE, receiving invitations for trials from professional clubs, and signing contracts with European sides. Instead, they ended up stranded nearly 10,000 kilometres from home, at times with no food or accommodation.
What the players said
Cambell Moyana: "I joined the Archford Gutu Football Academy in December last year. Growing up everyone knew ‘Archi’. He played for the national team and played in Sweden; he was our idol. When we heard that he started an academy, everyone rushed to join. I also went. As he had played abroad, I thought he was going to bring some experience to my life. The academy appeared to be set up in a proper way. There were teams for U-14, U-17 and U-20. Before the trip to Dubai, everything seemed proper."
Nyasha Mulongoti: "The trip was all about securing professional contracts. We were promised that we were going to sign professional contracts with big clubs, for example from Sweden. The trip was supposed to last two weeks, but we overstayed by four months."
Tinomudaishe Zaranyika: “I did a background check and I read that he played for Kalmar FF in Sweden for three years. Then he told us that we were going for trials for that team. I had faith in him. I was saying to myself, we are going for trials in Sweden. We were supposed to do things that were great."
Craig Mutakura Tawananyasha: "At first, we paid 1,300 USD to join this trip and a further 1,200 USD for accommodation and food. Then, after some months in Dubai, we had to pay 2,500 USD for UAE visas. It was a lot of money. I was supposed to use that money for going to school, but we ended up sacrificing to pay for this trip."
Calton Nyangani: "One week after we arrived, Archford told us that the team from Sweden was in Abu Dhabi, and they were going to come to Dubai to see us. Then, after four days, he told us they were no longer there because the league in Sweden was about to start. He promised us that we were going to play a game against Al-Ahli, a team from Dubai, but after some days he told us that the match was cancelled. Then he told us that we would play Al-Nasr. When we arrived, though, he said Al-Nasr were not there, so we played against another team. He promised us that we would play four, five games, but we only played two."
Blessing Jonasi: "When we stayed longer than two weeks, that raised some eyebrows. And then we didn’t eat regularly and were kicked out of hotels in the middle of the night. One of the hotels confiscated our passports. They said we would only get them back if our bills were paid. It was a very difficult experience; I was having to deal with the police. I was thinking, I am in a foreign land and I am now facing law enforcement. What do I do now, what if I go to jail?
“At that moment, Archford was staying in a different hotel. l called Archford and he said, 'Just tell them I am coming and go to your room'. But I couldn’t ignore the police. After some time, he came to deal with the police. Nine players went home, as their parents could afford the return trip. But eight of us had to remain in Dubai, where we were trapped. The hotel’s management kept the passports, as they first wanted all expenses paid before the passports were returned. Consequently, the players overstayed their visa for more than 50 days. Archford, in the meantime, was staying in another hotel with his wife and their newborn child."
Nigel Mandibatsira: "We spent about three months with no training. At times we did not get food; at times we got one meal a day. We would only get food at midnight. It was terrible. As players, we had a dream. We were just hoping that it worked out. I was really hurt."
Help from the union
The Zimbabwe community in UAE helped the players by providing food and accommodation. The players’ parents informed media in Zimbabwe which generated a lot of coverage. The Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (FUZ) contacted the players and their parents and informed the Foreign Affairs office, looking for a solution.
Eventually, the government intervened, covered the outstanding bills of the hotel, and arranged the return flight to Zimbabwe. A few days later, all eight players went to the office of player union FUZ to share their experiences.
Tanashe Junior Gutu: "My advice to all players is: before you do anything, or pay anything, do a background check or go to an organisation like FUZ. These people can be checked."