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Soccer Raises Athletes from Poverty Abroad, Remains Exclusive in US


It is hard to think of a pastime that unites people more than soccer does. Soccer is considered the most popular sport in the world, with an estimated following of four billion people and is a critical component of Latin American culture. The sport crosses societal, racial, financial, and religious divides, creating a social bond that brings people together for a common purpose. 

European sailors and British expatriates introduced soccer to Latin America (initially in Buenos Aires, Argentina). The first Latin American football club, the Buenos Aires Football Club, was established on May 9, 1867. Half the players on the team were British. 

Soccer began to be introduced into other countries in Latin America like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Peru; and shortly after, it became an integral part of Latin American culture. Players started to form local clubs that reflected the social identities of the regions they represented. Now, soccer is arguably the most significant cultural component shared across North and South American countries. 

Historically, soccer has been more popular in less affluent areas. It has lifted young, talented players out of poverty and into lives filled with fame and success. 

The United States (US) is one of the few countries in the world where soccer is not as easily accessible. In the US, playing soccer is a serious commitment that usually begins at a very young age. It is more competitive and not played as a unifying activity in which anyone can participate, unlike in Latin America. Soccer players compete with their teammates for starting positions, playing time, the coach’s praise, and in the case of high schoolers, the attention of colleges.

The Bay Area is home to many soccer clubs, many of which require a substantial tuition fee. This obstacle makes the sport more exclusive and can be harmful to talented players who may not have the financial means to be part of a club team. Although financial aid is sometimes offered, oftentimes it is very limited.

Historically, soccer has been more popular in less affluent areas. It has lifted young, talented players out of poverty and into lives filled with fame and success. Consider stars like Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pelé), Cristiano Ronaldo, or Lionel Messi. These stars come from working-class families, and they have risen to become some of the highest paid athletes in the world. 

Pelé is regarded as one of the best soccer players of all time. He is the only player in the world to have won three Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cups. Throughout his career, he scored 650 goals in 694 league matches and is the all-time highest goal-scorer for Brazil. 

Pelé had an incredible career, but he grew up in poverty. He was born in Minas Gerais, Brazil and earned money by polishing shoes and working in tea shops. Pelé’s father, a former soccer player, taught Pelé how to play soccer. He could not afford a proper ball; instead, he made do with objects like socks filled with newspaper. 

Ronaldo is another soccer star that came from humble beginnings, born and raised in Madeira, Portugal. He grew up in poverty, sharing a single room with his three siblings. In 2003, when Ronaldo was 18, he signed to Manchester United for £12.24 million, the most expensive transfer for a teenager at that time. 

Now, Ronaldo is one of the highest paid athletes in the world; his net worth is estimated to be $450 million. He has won FIFA’s Player of the Year award five times and is the most followed athlete on Instagram with 183 million followers, despite the world’s growing dislike of his values. 

Going forward, it is unclear if soccer will continue to be exclusive in the US or if it will start to serve as a social bond as it does in other countries. However, it is undeniable that throughout history, soccer has brought more people together than it has split apart.