Pay-to-Play Critics Have No Defense For These Undeniable Truths

The pay-to-play model is the commonly accepted punching bag that is usually cited as the primary reason for what is wrong with U.S. Soccer. But is that really the root cause of why America lags behind the other top countries? Here are the undeniable truths showing why that reasoning is flawed.

The basic reasoning goes that soccer in America is expensive to play and that it should be readily available at little to no cost. It is further argued that soccer is free-to-play elsewhere in most other parts of the world. And as the final nail in the coffin, critics decry that soccer in America is treated more as a business than a sport, which is detrimental to the game.

Let’s break down these statements and inspect them thoroughly. The initial premise is that soccer in America is expensive and should be free or have minimal cost.

In reality, soccer at the grassroots level in America is free or at minimal cost, like it is elsewhere. The actual issue is that we have so many options in America that people are complaining about it. Here we have free-to-play, inexpensive pay-to-play, higher level pay-to-play, and free professional academies residing at the highest level.

Other countries around the world do not have as many options as we do. Many typically only have free grassroots or a professional academy for those who are good enough. The pay-to-play options, if they even have them, are not nearly as built out as they are in America. The notion that “we should be like the rest of the world with only free-to-play options” is embarrassingly flawed.

It’s true that soccer in America is expensive at the higher levels if one chooses to partake in them. Again, this is optional and not unique to soccer. The pay-to-play model is present in just about every other sport in the United States. All of the major sports have free or inexpensive grassroots options in addition to more expensive pay-to-play options at the higher, competitive levels. Ironically, at the highest levels, soccer appears to be one of the least expensive choices when compared with other team sports.

The final complaint is that soccer in America is treated more as a business than a sport. Again, so is every other sport. This is not a dilemma that’s isolated to soccer. All of the major sports are pretty much treated as a business in the United States. So how is that a severe problem?

Correlation vs. Causation

Why do these harsh critics who point the finger at pay-to-play as being the primary cause of holding soccer back in America fail to mention that all of the other sports use the same model? If the pay-to-play model is so detrimental for soccer, then shouldn’t it be similarly bad for other sports as well? Shouldn’t we be unsuccessful in basketball, baseball, volleyball, football, tennis, and so on? This is extremely odd considering that in almost every other important sports categories, America happens to be very successful if not outright dominant.

Youth sports in America in general all have a pay-to-play model in place. Why aren’t these critics decrying pay-to-play as an entire concept and only using it as a scapegoat for our soccer woes? Is it perhaps because the argument doesn’t really hold water when looking at it from a broader perspective?

Critics of American soccer are so focused on the specific issue that they’re blinded by something that may perhaps be related but is not the root cause. These critics are confusing correlation with causation.

Having additional options is a good thing. Pay-to-play critics are so blinded by their ignorance that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

That’s like saying milk is bad because someone happens to be lactose intolerant. No, milk (pay-to-play) isn’t inherently bad. If milk was automatically bad, then it would be bad for everyone (all sports). But it’s fine for the vast majority of the population. There’s a condition within that particular person that is unable to handle lactose — the issue is with the person, not with the milk.

As Chris Rock put it, “We got so much food in America we’re allergic to food. Allergic to food! Hungry people ain’t allergic to shit. You think anyone in Rwanda’s got a fucking lactose intolerance?!”

Having additional options is a good thing. Pay-to-play critics are so blinded by their ignorance that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

An Uncomfortable Truth

The United States women’s national soccer team is the most successful in international women’s soccer. They have won four World Cups, four Olympic gold medals, and eight CONCACAF Gold Cups. The USWNT has never been ranked lower than second and are currently ranked No. 1 in the world.

Interestingly, every single player on the USWNT has grown up playing and developing within a pay-to-play system at an early age. And yet this system has produced widely successful results on the women’s side. How is that possible?

We already discussed how the pay-to-play model in America has supposedly only negatively impacted soccer and no other sports. But to continue with that theory, we must believe that it’s even more specifically targeted than that. It doesn’t just effect soccer while leaving all of the other sports seemingly unscathed, it only happens to hurt the men’s side as well.

The delayed 2020 Summer Olympics that was held this past summer would have been the perfect time to make this particular argument against pay-to-play. The USWNT had a pretty rough start with a stunning 3-0 loss to Sweden in their opening match, ending the team’s 44-game winning streak. They went on to lose 1-0 to Canada in the semifinals and ended up narrowly holding off Australia 4-3 in the third place match to eke out a bronze medal.

The women’s players had used the Tokyo Olympics as a platform to protest and kneel for Black Lives Matter ahead of their matches. Many conservatives were upset with their kneeling protests and claimed that the players’ activism contributed to their disappointing results. The team was eviscerated online by many who pointed their fingers at their protesting. Former president Donald Trump criticized their performance and made the claim that the women’s national team would have won the gold medal at the Olympics if they weren’t “woke.”

Yet, there seemed to be zero mention that their unexpected poor finish was the result of having grown up in a pay-to-play model. That’s because no one believes it. They all realize that the pay-to-play system in which the current and former USWNT players developed under is responsible for producing the most successful women’s team in history.

How is it possible that this nefarious system is able to only hinder the men’s game while ironically having the complete opposite effect to produce a women’s side that has been dominant in international competition? Amazing.

The true reason for our inability to effectively compete, at least on the men’s side, is that America simply doesn’t have a strong enough of a soccer culture. That’s it. If the culture was there, the money would be there, and the talent would be there. Pay-to-play would still be an option in soccer but we would be competing at the highest levels just like with the other major sports.

Does pay-to-play have an impact on soccer in America? Yes, it does. Is it the primary reason for its various issues? No, it is not. Let’s all agree that it does have some correlation to this complicated issue, but is not the main root cause.

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