Soccer: An Immigrant’s Game

Charles Kenny adds soccer to the list of reasons to support a more open immigration policy, pointing to the aftereffects of a 1995 European Court of Justice ruling that made it easier for players from outside the EU to play for European clubs:

Unsurprisingly, leagues that saw a higher influx of talented players improved: Clubs in the South Africa Child Football Teamsleague won more Europewide competitions. Meanwhile, talented players migrated to teams in strong leagues based in countries that were richer, closer to their home country, and shared colonial ties. That meant the better leagues, like the English Premier League or Spain’s Primera Division, extended their lead over other European leagues in countries such as Denmark and Romania. In this case, talented migration into Europe created greater productivity but also increased inequality. Everyone was better off, but it is true the best leagues benefited the most.

There was unvarnished good news for the countries that the talented migrants left behind. First, national teams in origin countries did better in international matchups the more their emigrants played in the top leagues in Europe. [Researcher Chrysovalantis] Vasiliakis estimates that the impact of greater global mobility of players lifted Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile 25 places or more in the 2010 FIFA rankings of national teams.

But those effects only seem to extend so far. Mallé Fofana asks why West African countries don’t field World Cup-winning teams even though they produce lots of great players for European clubs:

Talent alone cannot win games. Talent must be molded and refined in a system that can nurture and sustain it.  European and South American football teams have perfected this system — a well-oiled and well-financed system of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, and sports psychologists that not only have helped to develop the system but also sustain it today.  This system offers part of the access that a country like Cameroon lacks, in soccer as in the rest of its economy.

The other part comes from the lucrative financial incentives for performance. When the potential for income is taken away, so is the incentive to perform.  This in turn impacts morale, motivation, and results, and once again the matter circles back to the issue of access.

Brandon Valeriano notices that the US national team is short on Latino players:

Club soccer dominates in the U.S., and this is an expensive and almost impossible barrier for Latinos due to the costs and suburban nature of the programs.  Moving up a level, participation in high school or college teams assumes the participant has the freedom to actually play sports after school, an option not many of us had as working became a priority once we were of legal age.  College soccer is an even tougher prospect, since the costs or barrier of an inadequate school system make this path a huge obstacle for the Latino population.  The pipeline of talent to the World Cup team is broken for Latinos, but it’s also broken in the higher education system and in the political system.  The lack of development of Latino players is a symptom of the deeper problems in American society.

(Photo: Local children from the ‘Seven Stars’ Football Team practice and play football on their field next to the N2 Highway that runs past Gugulethu Township near Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on May 20, 2010. By Mark Wessels / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)