In this third article of this series, I will compare the demographic structure of the MNT of both Nations and finalize my thoughts with a fourth article.
In the first article, I compared some figures from both countries and Federations. Although numbers and data are important it is very difficult to compare the USA/Belgium and the respective FAs using just numbers. The numbers show that U.S. Soccer still has a potential to grow its registered player base – although I personally do not think that we can reach registered player/population ratio of Belgium – and the budget.
In the second article, I discussed the governance model of both Federations via their National Council or AGMs. The Belgium FA’s AGM -- which is the legislative organ -- is typical of most European countries. The article shows with such an AGM structure it is easier to direct all constituents to a single goal for the betterment of the game, including being one of the best MNT or WNT in the world and taking the necessary steps via mandates. On the other hand-- with our fragmented National Council changing the status quo is very difficult if not impossible.
Now let us look at both nations. Our country is very diverse in ethnicities and races; it is a country of immigrants. Belgium on the other hand until the 1960’s was not a very diverse society. With the rising demand for cheap labor – like other Western European countries -- lots of “gastarbeiter”s arrived from the Balkan and North African countries to Belgium. This was coupled with immigration from Congo -- the ex-colony of Belgium.
Belgians make up 75% of the country. The second largest group is Italians with 4.1%, Moroccans come in third with 3.7%, French with 2.4%, Turks with 2% and Dutch with 2%. The remaining 12.8% has other origins. Similar to the Netherlands, Moroccans and Turks entered Belgium decades ago as temporary guest workers. If not all, most of the 25% of the population are 1st or 2nd or at most 3rd generation immigrants.
Let us have a look at the USA. Except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2018, 60.4% of the population is non-Hispanic whites, followed by 18.3% Hispanics, 13.4% African-Americans, and 5.9% Asians. Only 1.3% of our society is Native Americans.
Now let us have a look at the demography of the MNT of each country.
For Belgium, I took its roster for the 2018 World Cup in which they finished third. The roster consisted of 23 players. I did some research on each of the players. 11 of them were sons of immigrants, in other words their parents immigrated to Belgium some years ago. Four players have parents from Congo; one other one was half-Congolese. There were players whose parents were from Martinique, Morocco (2), Portugal/Spain, Mali and Kosovo. Those 11 players represent 48 percent of the MNT. The country has only 25% immigrants. Why a country of only 25% immigrants fields a MNT composing of 48% immigrants is yet another topic of discussion for another article.
For the USMNT, I took the roster of 24 players on the U.S Soccer website from the October matches against Canada and Cuba. The roster had three 2nd- and 3rd-generation Hispanics and five African-Americans one of which had parents from Jamaica (Sean Johnson). The rest were whites with the exception of Yedlin who is half Latvian and half African-American, but since his mother brought him up I considered him as white. On the roster we have 13% Hispanics, 21% African-Americans and 67% Whites. The bottom line is whatever ethnicity or race you are a member of; in the USA, everyone is an immigrant unlike the case in Belgium where only 25% of the country is immigrants.
If you look at it from the football/soccer perspective all 100% of the Belgium society is immersed in a football culture whether every individual plays/played football or has interest in it or not. This is a true not only in Belgium but most of Europe, Latin and Central America, Africa and Asia. The only countries with a big population in which football/soccer is not the monopolizing sport culture are the USA, Canada, Australia and India.
There is a big difference in two countries in terms of football/soccer culture. The majority of the children of our country are not immersed in a football/soccer culture unlike their peers in Belgium. In order to compare apples with apples, you have to identify the “sons” in our country who come from families with a soccer background. Since the most influential persons in the elite player’s development are the parents – and not the coaches as some might like to think -- you must identify players whose parents come from soccer-immersed cultures. There are two groups of parents of elite players who are immersed in soccer culture: Those who played or coached at a high level like Pulisic’s parents and first generation immigrants from football-loving nations who love football. It is a known fact that 2nd-and 3rd-generation immigrants coming from football-loving countries lose their affiliation with the soccer / football culture of their ancestors. They become interested in other major sports like the rest of the society.
So it is the responsibility of U.S. Soccer to reach out to these first-generation immigrant families and their kids to bring them under the umbrella of the federation. Looking from that perspective, having only three Hispanics out of a roster of 24 (13%) seems a bit awkward.
In a country where 70% of the NFL players and 75% of the NBA players are African-Americans, one might find the fact that 21% of the USMNT are African-Americans a bit astounding. But we know that an overwhelming majority of the African-American kids are not raised up in a soccer culture or have parents who played or coached high level soccer. The exceptions are sons of 1st-generation immigrants who come from Africa, Central America or the Caribbean region. For example, Maurice Edu is the son of Nigerian immigrants and Jozy Altidore’s parents are immigrants from Haiti. The story of each African-American should be examined in detail by the federation to understand how to access black community and to make them role models for other African-Americans who seem to be the backbone of our sports landscape.
The comparison between the demographical structures of two nations’ MNTs might not be that meaningful based on the differences in their respective histories and cultures. But still it should show U.S. Soccer the venues it has to explore to bring in the talented “soccer-loving immigrants” into the system, at least not to miss some of them.
If Belgium can exploit its diverse human resources, we should look into ways of enriching our soccer landscape with diversity. Diversity of any country is its human resource wealth.