Pay to Play is playing US soccer


Grace Bouton

From the thousands of fans who flood college basketball games every weekend to the Alabama suburbs that turn into ghost towns because of the attendance of Friday night football games, sports are an integral part of American culture. Throughout the U.S., sports have not only acted as a source of entertainment for millions, but they have also served as a platform for American athletes to rise through the socioeconomic ladder one game at a time. However, the opportunity of economic mobility provided by many American sports does not extend to American soccer, a sport that is becoming increasingly popular yet is almost entirely restricted to the upper classes.

According to a calculation by USA Today, fees for an American child playing club soccer from ages eight to 18 can reach $60,000, not to mention the additional expenses of traveling and equipment. Considering that the average American’s annual salary is only $59,039, according to the Census Bureau, the steep costs of club soccer can be a barrier between the sport and children in lower and middle classes. As a result, a majority of top soccer tournaments are confined to children with money as opposed to ability. 

This system, like so many others in America, perpetuates a cycle of unequal opportunity, as lower income kids do not have an equal opportunity to play on clubs that are seen by colleges at showcases, and consequently may miss opportunities to gain paths to college or scholarships. According to a study by Jen McGovern, a PhD and professor at Mammoth University, 82.1 percent of a sampling of the 560 collegiate women’s soccer players came from families who were above the national median income of $59,039, highlighting how the scales are tipped in favor of the rich when it comes to American soccer.

In addition to this unethical nature of the American soccer system, pay to play produces American soccer teams and leagues that are unable to compete with countries who base team selections on talent, not wealth. 

According to Bleacher Report, the most competitive and entertaining leagues in the world are La Liga in Spain, Germany’s Bundesliga and the English Premier League. The one thing that all of these leagues have in common is their commitment to support youth soccer players they’ve recruited, regardless of their income. As a result, European soccer both attracts the world’s most elite players and is the most watched by fans according to Sports Bible. This foreign system has also prompted the Men’s World Cup titles to have only been claimed by countries without a pay for play system while the U.S. Men’s team fails to even qualify.

The Women’s United States team’s success seems to undermine the argument against pay to play as they have been extremely successful on the world stage, winning a total of four World Cups. However, their advantage comes from years of funding that other teams failed to get from foregin countries who lack support for women’s sports, not as a result of the immoral system. 

Across the world, soccer is a platform for kids of all classes to play a game they love while moving up the socioeconomic ladder. In America, however, it is yet another facet of our society that favors the rich while keeping our teams out of the running on an international level. 

For the benefit of social equality as well as our national teams, the US soccer federation must eliminate the pay to play system and professional American soccer teams must expand the academy system, where all expenses are paid for by the professional teams’ profits.