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The Strange Case of Eligibility

ImageJust this past weekend the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) made an important decision on behalf of Non Club Academies (private soccer academies) which will come into effect on October 15 of this year. Point 3 in Request for Decision 2012-009 reads: “Players in OSA-Recognized Non-Club Academy programs to be eligible for selection to OSA Provincial and Regional All-Star teams.”



At first glance this ruling may seem self-evident given the assumption that provincial associations are surely looking under every stone to find the best players to represent Region and Provinces. But one just has to look West to British Columbia to know that this is a significant ruling on behalf of all future players seeking equal access to these teams.



Currently in British Columbia, only players from a particular youth league, the BC Premier League (BCPL), are eligible for Provincial team selection. Not only are Non Club (private) Academy players not eligible in BC but neither are players competing in other leagues. Outrageous to say the least. To compound the issue, playing in the BCPL requires a significant user pay fee, making participation in the provincial team program even more restrictive. Essentially a budding provincial player in British Columbia has to funnel a yearly user pay fee (anywhere from $1500 to well over $3000) to 1 of 8 BCPL franchises just to be eligible for selection. All other user pay organizations are non-starters. It’s truly incredible that a taxpayer funded organization like the British Columbia Soccer Association (BCSA) is essentially forcing players to fund certain “non-profit” businesses to the exclusion of others in order to gain access to the provincial team program.

Representing your province is an honour. I was fortunate enough to do so on several occasions as a youth player. Provincial team coaches scoured the youth clubs/leagues in my day, making sure they selected (to the best of their ability) the right players. Of course, the BCSA will tell you that non-BCPL players do have some options

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Here is an excerpt from their documentation on this issue:

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Players not competing in EA Sports BC Soccer Premier League

It is a key high performance development strategy of BC Soccer to have all players who aspire or are seen to possess the required high performance competencies to ultimately be playing within the EA Sports BC Soccer Premier League.

This will expose those players to the appropriate high performance training and match play environment and competition platform.

Those players who are interested in being evaluated and assessed for potential selection to the Provincial Teams Programs must first be recommended to BC Soccer Development Staff by the club technical director or club head coach.

These recommendations must include a completed Player Recommendation Form which can be downloaded at: ————-

Following the receipt of the player recommendation form players will be required to have further evaluations within a recommended EA Sports BCSPL environment prior to consideration for Provincial Team Programs.

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As you can see, an onerous process that very few young players and their parents would even begin to consider. I’m surprised there isn’t a required urine and blood test.

A few months back I had a discussion with one of our youth national team coaches regarding a player in our organization (private academy) who was playing in a registered BC Senior League. I was advised that if that player was age-eligible for the National Training Centre (NTC) but did not attend, that player could not be selected for the national team. Puzzled by this assertion, I started to examine some of our national team rosters. In particular I looked at the U17 National Women’s Team who are about to kick off at the FIFA U17 World Cup in Azerbaijan. I came across two interesting players on this roster. One player, Lindsay Agnew, is currently playing for Ohio Premier in the Elite Club National League (ECNL) in the United States. Another, a goalkeeper named Taylor Bucklin, lists her hometown as Greenwich, USA. Now I am sure, like Lauren Sesselmann on our senior Women’s National Team, these two players have enough Canadian blood in them to qualify for the national team. I am also confident that they’ve earned their spots on this squad in terms of their ability and performance. But are they in the NTC? Did they participate in the BCPL in British Columbia? Are they currently in the player development model in one of the provinces? Of course they are not.



Now if our national program was at the top of the world rankings and getting it right then maybe none of this would matter. But we are not. So why do we believe that restricting access to our programs and squeezing a limited number of players down a funnel through one model makes sense? Amazingly enough, this directive in British Columbia is not some archaic rule that the association is clinging to. No, this eligibility rule is a recent addition to the BCSA by-laws.



If the largest sport governing body in the country (OSA) can embrace multiple platforms of player development in its search for provincial team representation and ultimately national team selection – why not in BC? Until we can look to involve all stakeholders in the game in this country, we will, as national team coach John Herdman stated, continue to succeed “by accident, not design.”

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Colin Elmes
Managing Director
TSS Academy

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