This past Sunday in the W League opener for both teams, the Victoria Highlanders stunned the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2, a significant result as the Whitecaps line up was filled with Canadian National Team players, former WPS players, and Canadian U20 starters, while the Highlanders had no “big name” players.
Furthermore the win was that much more impressive in the obstacles that the Highlanders face in the way the system, unrightfully, have made them the “little sister” to the Whitecaps.
These problems could not be a better example, of in my opinion, how blatant the commercial preference in British Columbia is, and how this is hurting opportunities for the players and the growth of our game in general.
Let me explain.
As some people may know, I run the Western Canada Soccer Showcase. For some background on how difficult it was for us to get it off the ground, click here. Despite dealing with annoyance in some form each year from BC Soccer, the Showcase has grown to be recognized as the top girls showcase in Western Canada, gauging by the quality of schools and teams that we attract to the event each year.
This year, in our fifth year, we had our most successful event yet, with 26 teams from across Western Canada, university coaches from both top CIS schools and US institutions such as Yale in attendance. For the first time, not only were scholarships offered to universities, but a couple of grade 10 players received interest and/or scholarship offers to top US prep high schools on the East Coast.
And yet, a few days after the event, after spending the day on the phone with some universities inquiring about players from the event, I received an email from BC Soccer, demanding the rosters of TSS and Victoria Highlanders from the event, as they said that it had been brought to their attention that the organizations (TSS and Victoria Highlanders) had participated in the event with “unsanctioned” players.
In a later email, I asked BC Soccer’s Member Services representative who had contacted us, Matt Holbrook, why he’d be coming after TSS or the Highlanders. I questioned in the case of especially the Highlanders, that they essentially in every capacity were the same as the Whitecaps on the women’s side, an organization that also ran a female youth team (Whitecaps Girls Elite Prospects) with players that were no longer tied in with youth clubs like the Highlanders, whose roster they were demanding.
Holbrook replied that it was because member districts/HPL clubs were complaining that these players had been “poached” and that because they were allegedly not registered with youth districts, therefore making them “unsanctioned.”
Again the hypocrisy is stunning. This concept of “poaching” players is an interesting one, when juxtaposed to the Whitecaps/HPL clubs proudly displaying in local media when players have been “selected” to the Whitecaps Girls Elite team from HPL teams. Yet when players choose to attend the Highlanders instead of the HPL club, not only are they shut out of opportunities to play on the Provincial Team (a team supposedly representative of the best players in the province) as they are not a part of the HPL, but events/groups such as ours feel harassed, for allowing these “unsanctioned” players to receive exposure to fulfill their university soccer aspirations.
I subsequently responded with further questions to Bjorn Osieck, Executive Director, BC Soccer as well as Mr Holbrook via an email April 16, 2012. I hoped to try and understand the reasoning behind this different treatment towards the Whitecaps and Highlanders to better understand the rules in order to run our event with no complaints in the future. I have not received a direct response to the questions that I posed in my email.
(From the above mentioned April 16, 2012 email to Osieck and Holbrook):
2. Whitecaps v Highlanders
a. I am also confused as to why the Whitecaps and Highlanders are playing by different rules. Both operate “professional” clubs in terms of their participation in the W League. Announcements have been made in the last month about new Whitecaps Prospects players coming over from HPL clubs, “poaching” by the definition you presented–While these moves by players from HPL clubs to the Whitecaps Prospects program is heralded in announcements by BC Soccer, the Highlanders are being chased in a case such as our Showcase, and accused of poaching players from the Island HPL, as per your email below.
Why are the Whitecaps getting special treatment and privileges on the girls side, when the Highlanders are offering exactly the same service on the girls side as the Whitecaps?
These are issues that I feel are relevant to the Showcase and rule enforcement that I’d appreciate understanding and clarification on.
4. Definition of “Poaching”
What exactly is the definition of “poaching”…is it not a free market country that we live in and players and parents can make the choice about where to spend their money and where their daughter’s will be best developed and her best interest’s served? In the case of the Highlanders, I understand they are offering their program for less than a third of the cost ($3000/HPL v $1000 Highlanders) than the Vancouver Island HPL, which for a parent, seems like an obvious choice to be a part of the Highlanders program instead. The definition of poaching implies actively hunting players. Why is this terminology used when players, who live in a free market economy are making decisions about where their daughter’s best interests will be served and where they would like to spend their money? Additionally, when exactly is the open season for players to be able to make a choice in switching teams, in the current system?
I don’t think there is a more blatant example of how through the system in BC the right to a free market is being corrupted, as I understand it through the above situation. This directly affects the growth of the game in our province, and the opportunity the players have to choose a soccer development program that they feel suits their daughter’s needs best. It also hurts the groups that run HPL clubs, by giving them a privileged position in the system, one that does not force them, through competition to be better in, which again at the end of the day hurts the players.
There’s a reason why in soccer, we value the concept of fighting for a spot in the starting eleven. It makes us better.
With a group such as the Highlanders facing such adversity within the system to just run their program, their 3-2 win over the Whitecaps in the season opener last weekend, is that much more impressive.
Unfortunately, we have the same problems happening in our youth system in Victoria where players are trapped in a catchment area and cant either play with their friends or find the “right fit” for their development.
We are the only district to have boundaries and restrictions and its hurting our players, coaches and over all development of the game.
We continue to waste time dealing with questions, concerns and complaints about transfers and restrictions when we could be making the game and the system simple which only makes the administrators job easier, but puts smiles on the players faces as they are having fun and that is the only way we can keep kids in the game… if they have fun!
BC Soccer and the Whitecaps seem to have their hands in each others pockets, and if anyone, any team, or any club seems to challenge them or is perceived as a threat, well BC Soccer will be big daddy and try to eliminate that threat. At the end of the day, it should be about supporting players with a positive, healthy environment to build their skills and knowledge of the game, all the while allowing them to have fun. It seems counterproductive to the sport to prove girls being “unsanctioned” and therefore ineligible to participate in these tournaments or competitions. A showcase is a great opportunity to play against some good competition, and potentially gain some exposure to scouts who may offer them opportunities to continue on with soccer at a higher level after high school. What a great concept. One shouldn’t be banned from an opportunity like this because of political issues.
For the promotion of the game, wouldn’t it be great to have some of the National team members, or those in the pool, try to expand their influence across the province by possibly playing on the Island with the Highlanders? With a Whitecaps Women’s roster of 32, one would assume that BC Soccer and the National program have a heavy influence on their players to joining the Whitecaps, or that players fear the potential fall out from their future opportunities if they were to go elsewhere. Imagine if both BC WPS teams were able to take on some of the national pool players, the good it would do for the communities at large, the benefit to the players of actually seeing the pitch, all the while receiving quality training throughout the week. It’s a shame that the majority of those signed with the Whitecaps won’t see any minutes with the big club, and that they could easily venture over to the Island for the summer and play against the exact same competition, and probably have a good opportunity to get a lot of time on the field. Victoria seems to have a big Island contingent with little “star” power, which makes it all the more impressive that the minnow took on the big fish and won. Maybe it will open up the eyes of some of the Whitecaps ‘bench’ players that there is quality soccer on the Island, and for their own development, it may be a place to take a hard look at when deciding where to play come next season.