Arguments for the protection of children against marriage or labour must also apply to young footballers

An exciting, skilful young boy from Terengganu, Muhammad Aqil Shamsul Aswadi is now a fully-fledged member of the Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) football academy and is sending shivers of excitement through the internet.

Looking at the widely-shared video of him, the 13-year-old demonstrates good vision, good ability at close quarters, courage, and that devilish casual spirit of many seasoned professional footballers.

Despite playing against footballers twice his age, Aqil actively seeks the ball and wants to play. I certainly believe that he’ll do exceptionally well.

Parents wanting their children to become professional footballers are on the rise.

In recent years, we have seen a rise in weekend football academies and widespread junior football tournaments in Malaysia.

Without comprehensive laws and the existence of loopholes within the present frameworks, the practice of underage recruitment into academies of professional football clubs could potentially lead to those children being exposed to economic exploitation and risk of harm.

Arguments for the protection of children against marriage or labour must also apply to young footballers.

Surprisingly, there has actually been a lot of excitement and warmth when it comes to football. I can’t help but wonder if our lawmakers might be unclear about this situation.

In response to stricter monitoring and review, football clubs have creatively pushed the boundaries of existing regulations by satisfying loopholes in the child protection framework.

Football clubs would go to the extent of offering parents high-income jobs to ensure that the entire family is close by.

The young footballer’s education is taken care of as the academy would have a school or an academic partnership with one nearby.

I understand football clubs are fulfilling what it thinks is best for the young footballer. But let’s not forget that the whole aim and purpose of a modern professional football club is never to prepare our children for higher education.

Their fundamental target is similar to any other business – to profit and bragging rights by winning trophies.

There are those who say that kids who are passionate footballers are academically hopeless. And that a football academy would provide them with a worthwhile alternative in life.

That is just morbid and an outright premature opinion, especially, when referring to kids as young as 13.

But then again, when good money is laid-out, people tend to be docile and happy to foster that absurd impression.

Children do not have the same political or economic capacity as adults. The inherent imbalance makes them distinctly vulnerable and ill-equipped to enter into any form of contract.

And when you start to include the commercial interests related to football and the power they occupy, that imbalance becomes even more conspicuous and overwhelming.

It is very likely that Aqil is in good hands. You can dabble all you want about JDT or its academy, but in the end, even when you’re relegated to the ‘B’ team or benched and hardly play throughout the season, you’ll realise that that is a much better alternative than playing in the first 11 of most football clubs in this region.

And that is, probably, JDT’s greatest craft.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.