The battle for soccer supremacy is not played out in the MLS stadiums or in introducing the designated player rule. It is played out in small hamlets like Clarkstown, GA.
The NYT has the story of the Fugees, (subscription needed) a soccer program comprising of teams of youngsters from the ages of 9 to 17 years of age, whose parents are recent immigrants from the war torn countries of Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Iraq, and have been resettled in Clarkston, GA. As seen in the case of Lewiston, ME the resettlement process has been fraught with the tensions of an insulated older community steeped in certain ways of American tradition having to cede ground to a newer international immigrant community with different linguistic, cultural and social backgrounds. Soccer is a flash point in this debate. A foreign sport played by foreigners.
The Fugees are forced to play in hardscrabble, dust laden grounds although there are parks with grass available in Clarkston. The town’s mayor, Lee Swaney has banned soccer from the parks because it threatens a familiar way of life. “There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor.”
But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.
The Fugees coach, Luma Mufleh, herself a Jordanian immigrant started the soccer program with $2000 from their sponsors, the YMCA for uniforms and equipment. The Fugees just received their first set of soccer goals after playing two seasons without them. Despite the lack of equipment and a permanent training ground the Fugees have impressed everyone with their talent and enthusiasm, becoming a force in youth soccer in the Atlanta area often beating their affluent and better trained rivals. Recently, on Mufleh pleading her case, the Clarkston City Council decided to grant the Fugees space to play in a city park for six months.
The Fugees have had to raise their own cash to make it to tournaments. A tall order for a team whose parents work in minimum wage jobs. Even more dire, they will not have the city park to play come March when the city decree runs out. Luma Mufleh is now looking for a permanent home for the Fugees.
For those who believe that David Beckham will provide soccer with the life and impetus it needs, the story of the Fugees serves as a reminder that there are far more complex forces at play that impede the development of soccer in the US. Sports is a powerful cultural index to many in this country as it is in other parts of the world. Much of it has to do with the patriarchal attitude of many Americans towards their own sports that fosters the rejection of soccer as a foreign impostor, and by extension, anything that is unfamiliar or threatens their way.