soccer@tss.ca
1751 Savage Road, Richmond, BC

BC Soccer Weds Whitecaps in Closed Ceremony

Editorial by Colin Elmes

ImageOur soccer community here in British Columbia is a sensitive one. Organizations and individuals don’t take to criticism well, so often we grumble under our breath about the deficiencies in our soccer system but are loathe to speak out loud. Some would argue that our reluctance to debate freely or to openly dissent is a Canadian trait. We would rather hold our breath than make people feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this inclination does not help us improve. On the contrary, it causes us to be stagnant, to be intransigent to the possibility of change. Criticism and debate when received openly, allows us to refine, to modify, and ultimately to improve. One of my favourite posters is a photo of bulls chasing Spanish men down the streets of Pamplona. The caption reads “just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it's not incredibly stupid.”

So in an effort to overcome this Canadian inclination, I would like to point out a few glaring issues surrounding our youth soccer development system. We have been told in no uncertain terms by our governing body that we should always defer to the Player Development Pathway. This pathway puts the CSA at the very top of the pyramid with their national teams program. This is followed below by the Whitecaps with their senior teams. Third in line is the BCSA with their provincial teams, plus the Whitecaps Prospects. The final tier is the community soccer clubs.

The issue at hand is the decision by our provincial governing body to embed the Whitecaps, a professional soccer club, right into the center of this development pathway. Why is this a problem? This is a problem both in terms of conflicting objectives and exclusive endorsement.

To begin with, the Whitecaps is a business - in the same way that TSS Academy is a business. As the owner of TSS Academy, my primary objective is to offer a product or service at a price that allows the business to grow or at least to sustain itself. In so doing, the business has to be good at offering that product or service. If TSS Academy was not good at developing players and offering a positive training environment, the business would suffer.

The same is true for the Whitecaps. Though in the case of the Whitecaps, their primary business objective is not to develop players, it’s to sell tickets. That’s not to say that developing players is not an instrumental part of selling tickets since the Whitecaps need good players to eventually fill the ranks of their senior teams. However, developing players is not their primary business objective. If for example, the Whitecaps could acquire top level players from outside their organization, their province, or their country - why wouldn’t they? Their primary objective is to sell tickets. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with that objective and there’s no question that if the Whitecaps succeed and continue to flourish, it will undoubtedly help develop the game in this province. However, it is foolish and naive to believe that the aims of the BC Soccer Association and the Whitecaps are the same.

The BC Soccer Association (BCSA) has as its purpose “to foster, develop and promote the game of soccer, in all its branches, in the province of British Columbia.” The association is not a business, it is an organization that emanates directly from the community soccer clubs in BC. The Whitecaps currently support this BCSA objective for obvious reasons. However, for the the BCSA to jump exclusively into bed with the Whitecaps simply because they share some common goals, is highly inappropriate. It is also questionable given that the BCSA is a society partially funded by the provincial government. By engaging in an exclusive relationship with the Whitecaps, they are effectively shutting out other businesses. This, in legal terms, is called “commercial preference.”

Here is a case in point. The Whitecaps Prospects Program is currently considered to be part of the Player Development Pathway. Essentially what this means is that all community soccer clubs, including their technical directors, are strongly encouraged to endorse the Whitecaps Prospects Program. If the club has an elite player, they are expected to stand aside if the Whitecaps are interested in developing that player. The Prospects Program, however, charges these players a fee to train with the Whitecaps. So while the community club may offer a good training environment or a user-pay program, they are expected to stand aside and let another user-pay program provide this service.

The Whitecaps also offer a user-pay program for the “second-tier” of players. This program is referred to as their “academy” rather than “prospects”. So should the soccer community be expected to stand aside for this program as well? What’s the difference? I’ll tell you the difference, one program has better players than the other - end of story.

In other words, the Whitecaps Prospects Program is no different than TSS Academy, no different than the Roman Tulis School, no different than any user-pay academy through the club. Now one may argue that they are different because the Whitecaps offer a superior training environment but that’s simply a matter of opinion - just one business arguing that they have a better product than the competition. What is truly different about the Whitecaps Prospects Program is that they are endorsed exclusively by our governing body, the BC Soccer Association. Imagine if the FA in England were to exclusively endorse Manchester United and to instruct all elite young players to train at the Manchester United Academy. There would be outrage across the soccer community - not to mention the other private businesses that train young players.

At least professional clubs like Manchester United allow their top young players to train for free - just like most every other professional soccer club in the world. The reason these clubs don’t charge money for their academies is because they’re trying to develop these players into senior players who can, in turn, help them SELL TICKETS. Again, this is the primary objective of professional soccer clubs.

At minimum, what are the parameters of this exclusive relationship between the BCSA and the Whitecaps? For example, can the Prospects Program balloon their U12 boys age group to 60 players - all of whom are paying a fee? Does the program have to end on a certain date during the year or can it run all through the summer? Why isn’t the BCSA mandating that the Prospects Program be offered free of charge in order to be part of the pathway? Players do not pay for the National Training Centre. Why are they being forced to pay for the Prospects? In other words, at what point does the Whitecaps Prospects Program simply become a user-pay academy under the guise of elite player development as identified by the BCSA Player Development Pathway?

This is not to say that private businesses in our soccer community should be reviled or mistrusted. I have no doubt that the Whitecaps earnestly believe in developing young players and developing the game in this province - so does TSS Academy, so does most everyone involved in coaching young soccer players, whether they be paid professionals or volunteers. It’s silly to believe that charging a fee somehow calls into question one’s motives. For example, Dynasty Electric in Delta, BC manufactures and sells electric cars. Do they care about the environment? Of course they do. Do they charge money for their cars? Of course they do. The issue is not the motives or even the efficacy of a private business training young players in this province. The alarming issue is that our governing body has exclusively placed a single professional soccer club at the heart of its development model. The BCSA has elevated one private business above all the rest, an organization that is not even in the primary business of developing players. It’s questionable at best for the BCSA to give any private business that kind of monopoly. And even if one has no issues with this decision, where was the due process? At minimum, where was the Call for Tenders? I’m sure there would have been quite a few businesses interested in bidding on that contract.

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Colin Elmes is the Director and Owner of TSS Academy in Richmond, BC

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