Twenty-year-old Issac Nyengue, a defender from Cameroon, a football hotbed in Africa, was looking for a little payday and a chance to gain valuable experience in what he thought was a professional European league. So he seized on an opportunity to go the South Caucasus country of Georgia, which aspires to host the 2020 European Football Championships. But instead of performing for a team in Tbilisi, Nyengue alleges he got played.
Nyengue recounted that he had to fork over $1,040 this past January for the opportunity to join FC Elit, a Tbilisi-based team he believed was in Georgia’s second division. “The owner of the team picked me up at the airport and said, ‘Welcome to Georgia,’” Nyengue said. “He took me to a flat and I knew something was wrong. It was like something from a Cameroonian village.”
The flat that housed FC Elit’s African players, according to Nyengue, was in the Tbilisi velodrome, a dilapidated Soviet-era facility that no longer hosts bike races, and which also sheltered Internally Displaced Persons. “When I walked in, there were 10 guys sleeping in a single room. There was no heater,” Nyengue said.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.