Pay-to-play soccer prevents rise of urban players in U.S.

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There is a great issue that exists in the United States, and that is pay-to-play soccer. In many cities, such as St. Louis, the only way to catch attention of collegiate coaches and earn opportunities is to join a soccer club. If a child wishes to be recognized and move up the ranks in the soccer community, one would have better chances of doing so while on a club team. Many private club fees range from $500 to $900 but may extend to thousands for external expenses.

The general price of joining a club immediately prevents a large group of kids from participating in club soccer. Fees exclude those who cannot afford to pay them and parents to the kids who play often have to pay much more than the standard fee. The system is aimed to a generally white, middle-to-upper-class audience. There are thousands of gifted athletes that live in African-American, Hispanic and immigrant communities. It is odd to see the under-representation of latinos in the higher levels of soccer despite such great popularity of the sport in their culture.

Moreover, the pay-to-play dynamic acts as a racial and class barrier, but soccer is a game for everyone. The game spans across all barriers of race, language and culture. It is a universal language. And in many less affluent communities, soccer is central to identity.

Some of the most talented players across the world arose from impoverished communities. Lionel Messi grew up in the destitute city of Rosario, Argentina. Cristiano Ronaldo was also born into a poor family in a poor neighborhood. International superstars in the soccer community came from poverty. Zlatan Ibrahimovic grew up in a slum located in Malmo, Sweden. Many other players share the same background as these three. Zinedine Zidane said in an interview with the Guardian, “I was lucky to come from a difficult area. It teaches you not just about football but also life. There are lots of kids from different races and poor families. People had to struggle to get through the day.” Zidane was a talented player from France. However, it is extremely rare to hear similar stories to theirs in the United States. And I believe it is because of the pay-to-play system. Just imagine if these players had to pay thousands of dollars in order to be given a chance to rise the ranks in the soccer world.

Therefore, the pay-to-play system is hindering American children, especially in St. Louis. A trend of viewing soccer as a white suburban sport emerges. Even as diversity increases, there is still a gap. St. Louis is home to over 200,000 immigrants, according to the American Immigration Council. I am sure these people have great talent. If only they were given the chance to play and excel.

If the United States wishes to compete on an international scale, pay-to-play soccer must be a way of the past. In an article featured on the MLS’s website, half of the US Men’s National team are immigrants or children of immigrants. Now imagine if paying to play was not an issue. Soccer should be equitable, not equal. Give players a fair chance to excel regardless of financial status or social standings. There are gifted players within urban areas and they need to be identified, whether it be by a principal or neighborhood leader. Talent must not go unnoticed.

There are multiple ways to combat pay-to-play soccer. Luckily, the pay-to-play model is slowly being left behind, but not fast enough. The easiest way is by bringing soccer into urban centers. As of right now, soccer is only available to those who can afford it. Bring the game to those who are less fortunate. Send in coaches and form teams with an affordable price or no price at all. Create a grassroots movement to bring attention to players who have a bright future. Coaches need to put money aside and let the kids play. Do not turn this sport into a business. Do not let so much talent go to waste just because of money.