Yesterday TSS Academy from Richmond, BC went into mediation with BC Soccer, based on a lawsuit that they brought on in September.
They, quite simply, are fighting for the right to compete. More specifically to be able to run their soccer academy unhindered, to have players in the BC community be able to choose to be a part of their programs without being punished, and amongst other basic privileges, be able to take their teams to tournaments in the US and do other things that would allow them to run a business and compete in a normal, free market. Sounds like a pretty reasonable request, living in a free country like Canada, right?
Unfortunately it’s a request that they are being forced to pay thousands of their own dollars to fight for, while their opponents, BC Soccer use the province’s youth soccer coffers as play money to push back.
This mediator’s decision will have an extremely important effect for players and soccer academies in BC, as it essentially will determine whether a non-competitive, or competitive environment for player development in BC will exist. I think everyone can agree that a competitive, non-monopoly environment is an important value in all facets of Canadian society. As a player I know this as an unabashed truth, and one worth fighting for, for the next group of players.
The question then lies about why haven’t we heard anything about this very important day for player development in BC? With so much media in this day and age and so many “experts” on Canadian youth player development on twitter and on blogs, nothing has been mentioned. Again, I ask, why is this?
It is confusing if you don’t know the ins and outs of it, but I will put it into a metaphorical story to just put into context how wrong the current climate of youth soccer in BC is, and how it is driving far too many people with integrity who could make a real impact on the players both on and off the field, out of the system. This is what makes TSS’ fight so important.
Once upon a time…..
There is one field complex in town to play soccer on. This one complex is funded by the taxpayers in the town (player registration/the town clubs) and BC Soccer is the bank that collects the funds and organizes the schedule for these metaphorical fields.
In theory, the bank/BC Soccer’s function is simply to collect the funds and administer the schedule with no preference given to any group in town. If they are doing their job, their job is just to watch over the field complex, make sure that all groups have an equal chance of playing on the field based on whoever has the players and offer services to the groups on the field to make sure that the townspeople get the best possible programming.
If the system functions as it should, the taxpayers (players families) choose which of those groups that they want to go to, and those groups (clubs/academies) try and make their programs as attractive as possible. They have to always be doing their best job and stay on the cutting edge in order to stay in business.
But instead somewhere along the line, the people working in the bank, that are in charge of the fields (BC Soccer), realize that they are the only one that have the keys to the field complex. They start to see certain groups are getting popular that have people running them that aren’t their friends and this makes them uncomfortable.
So they decide to start telling those groups that they don’t get to have time on the fields. They also start going around to the taxpayers of the field complex and telling them, that those groups are now “outsiders” and they start saying bad things about them so people are afraid to use them. These outsider groups start looking for field space in other parts of town. They have a fantastic service and are passionate about what they do, so they are able to maintain their business, albeit they struggle since they’ve been pushed outside the system.
Then a group comes along (the Whitecaps) who has deep pockets. Pockets so deep in fact that the bank (BC Soccer) realizes that there is the potential for the Whitecaps to go and build their own field complex, which kind of scares them as it means that they will lose their power. The bank (BC Soccer) tries to assert their power at first but then both groups realize that it would just be so much easier if they just worked together. It’s a win-win: The bank makes and gives copies of the keys to the complex to the Whitecaps. They allow the Whitecaps to start deciding who gets to play on it, and in turn the bank can maintain their power which they realize is far more important to them, than doing their job and maintaining the integrity of the complex and the town.
The Whitecaps then start to implement their programming on all of the groups using the fields. BC Soccer goes around behind them and reminds everyone that in order to play that they can only play at their town complex and start to go and bully anyone in the town that is trying to organize games elsewhere.
Both the Whitecaps and BC Soccer don’t like the competition that these other groups are giving, especially when they feel they have the power to eliminate them, so they start doing everything that they can to make these other groups programs to fail. They tell them they are not allowed play games against other teams from other towns, they hide behind the bushes and throw metaphorical rocks on their fields in other parts of town and they try and scare everyone that is going to this other field and tell them that there will be consequences if they go. They tell them that they are not going to go anywhere in soccer if they go to that other field. The people using the fields don’t really know any better and they are just afraid that if they get in the middle of anything that their kid is going to not be able to play so most go along with what they are being told, or go to the outsiders group’s field when it is dark outside and no one can see them. But they are scared because the bank (BC Soccer) reminds those taxpayers that they are the ones in charge and that there are consequences for not respecting that.
Then BC Soccer and the Whitecaps come up with a way to entrench themselves in the decision making of the townspeople even more. They set up “elite groups” called HPL, and tell all the taxpayers that if they want to play elite soccer that they have to play in this group called HPL. They tell them that instead of paying $400 to play soccer at the fields, if they want to play elite soccer, they have to pay around $2500. They push the decision through with no time to talk about it, remind everyone that their field complex is the only place that people are allowed to play, and that they are experts and know what is best for the town. Parents struggle to pay this massive amount of money, but they feel pressured that it’s the only place that they can go for their child to achieve their soccer dreams. They are pressured further because now they are told that HPL is the only group that they can play at if they want to make the Provincial and thus youth National team.
Then the bank/BC Soccer hands out HPL franchises to all of their friends to get more stakeholders in this system. High paying jobs are handed out to coaches running the franchises. Since now it has been decided that the HPL groups are the only ones that can play at the field complex, this makes the culture change from instead being innovative and on a competitive edge, to a focus on keeping the status quo. It doesn’t become about how to develop the best players in a competitive environment, but now the people that are making money off this system, just want to keep it the same and make it so their HPL group continues to be the only one allowed to play at the field complex even if its not what is best for the players or the game.
There are some really good people that try and get involved at the field complex, since they feel it is the only place to go if they want to coach kids, and they love coaching kids, love the game of soccer. But they get so disillusioned by what they see and the lack of integrity in a game that they love so much, that they say to hell with it, they don’t want to get involved. So they either leave the town altogether and go somewhere else, or they just walk away from the game and throw themselves into their new careers. Some who stay don’t agree with what is going on, but it is how they have to feed their family, or themselves, so they just go along with things because they don’t want to get bullied or lose out.
There are other groups that are trying to run programs under their terms in other parts of town, but they either just play with the lights off because they don’t want the bank (BC Soccer) to know that they are there, or they just pack up and leave altogether.
Those being marginalized by what is going on look to people like the media and those that have an interest in growing the game to help get the truth out about what is going on in the town. But soon they realize that these people are more concerned about losing access themselves to the field complex, or ruining relationships with BC Soccer/Whitecaps that are benefitting them in some way, and that may be why they choose to keep silent although they have the ability to spread the truth. Without knowing why, these are just guesses, although those being marginalized are curious. But regardless, the truth about what is really going on in the town never really gets out to a wider audience.
But there is one group. One group that has been brave enough to fight for a long time, believes in integrity, and believes in their right to run their business. They have a bit of extra money to fight, and they decide that they are going to put their foot down and fight for everyone else in the town that is running their program in the dark. They believe that it is in the best interest of the players to have the right to choose where they go to develop as people and as players, and so they dig their heels down, and without really anyone knowing, they fight for players to have the right to choose.
And their fight leads into mediation in what is the most important day in BC youth soccer, but because of the above factors, it is a day that no one will really hear about.
The end….for now.
And for this TSS, I would like to thank you on behalf of everyone in the “town” that believes in the integrity of the game, of player development and for the principles of competition that our great country is supposedly built on. Thank you for putting your time, your money and your business on the line for all of us and for the players of BC to be able to have the right to choose.