Soccer economy: neighborhood soccer fields, from talent hotbeds to values education
*By Juan Notaro
We are now witnessing a global soccer fever. Russia World Cup 2018 has left some sadness, but also exciting emotions, especially in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, the countries of the River Plate Basin that took part in the tournament.
Coincidentally or not, these countries are also leading exporters of soccer players, being Uruguay at the top of the ranking for annual transfers of players in relation to its population (96 per million people).
According to recent figures published by the CIES Football Observatory, in the last year, more than 1200 players from Brazil were transferred, mostly to Portugal; about 760 Argentine players were transferred mainly to Chile; and more than 320 Uruguayan players were transferred primarily to Argentine teams.
Paraguay is also included in the ranking of “player exporters”, with 22 players sent abroad per million Paraguayans, totaling 144 players – 14th in the world ranking.
With regard to Bolivia, although it has very good international players, it seems to be more on the side of demand. In fact, it is the third Latin-American country with the highest percentage of foreign players (25%), following Mexico and Chile, according to the CIES Football Observatory.
The above figures lead to some obvious conclusions. First, soccer is a very important sport for all the five countries of the River Plate Basin. And, second, considering the interest it raises and such transfer volume, it must have an impact on the economy.
These figures are not accurate and not up to date, and the measurement methods used are not the same for all countries. Nevertheless, professional soccer as a whole may account from 0.6% of the GDP, as is the case of Uruguay, to 2.2% in Brazil or Argentina (although in Argentina, measurements include indicators such as the consumption of food and beverages in pubs and restaurants during the games). And without any doubt, qualifying to the World Cup has an even greater impact on the economies of the countries.
Should we then prioritize policies aiming at ensuring a higher impact of soccer on the economic performance of a country? Should we have many “soccer stars” to ensure high-value transfers and, in addition, increase the chances of qualifying to the World Cup?
To favor this approach, which certainly can be very relevant, would largely maximize the great impact soccer and sports in general have as a means to promote values, social inclusion and equity.
In an interview with the magazine Letras Libres, Kuper states that success in soccer is to a large extent determined by the availability of facilities to play it and not necessarily by the “passion” the sport generates in a certain country or the number of “soccer stars” from a nation playing abroad.
Kuper goes beyond and states that in Europe “Governments build soccer stadiums, promote soccer, but also wellbeing”. That is, sport is promoted and safe locations to practice sports are provided where social interaction is encouraged regardless of social or ideological differences.
Does building more soccer fields contribute to a better society (and better soccer)? Not necessarily, explains Marta Laverde from the Foundation for Reconciliation of Colombia and former World Bank Specialist on Education.
“It is not a question of playing just for the sake of playing, but a purpose is required”, she states, with regard to a Soccer and Peace project she has led in Colombia, and adds that this is what many organizations in the world do when they use soccer as a means to improve society.
Therefore, it is a combination of soccer (with good facilities to practice it) and values, as Academia Tahuichi has done in the city of Cruz de la Sierra - where FONPLATA headquarters are located - and other organizations around the world.
Last year we partnered with this Academy to celebrate the Mundialito, which gathered more than 300 players from U-20 teams from more than 20 countries. Together with the Ministry of Sports of Bolivia, which supports and creates conditions to facilitate the participation of young people in different sport activities, we organized a U-17 women’s soccer tournament with teams from six regions of the country.
Also in other countries, such as Brazil, many of our projects for urban development include the building or improvement of facilities to practice sports, as we believe that well-maintained public areas are allies for social development.
“Soccer’s unique appeal is its capacity to motivate and pass on important messages in an effective manner”, states Jürgen Griesbeck, Founder and CEO of Street Football World, organization that uses sport to address topics related to gang violence, exclusion and youth unemployment.
If we provide our children and teenagers with these sport fields and deliver them important messages, in ten or fifteen years we will not only have as many or even more “soccer stars” as today, but also - and more importantly - better societies.
*Originally published in the monthly column of Juan Notaro in The Huff Post.