Like many cities in the United States, access to jobs, bank loans, and access to public space in Chicago is determined by class, race, gender identity, and sexuality. That formula plays out in sports, too, shaping the geographic and social boundaries of soccer’s infrastructure in the city.
It’s fair to say that soccer is humanity’s only truly global sport, but that doesn’t mean that the game is inherently accessible for all who want to play. From the highest levels of soccer–those played on the pristine pitches of Europe–to a neighborhood park on Chicago’s Southwest Side, there continue to be barriers of racism, sexism, and discrimination that keep soccer from being the inclusive, worldwide sport its supporters want it to be.
Soccer–as it’s called in the United States (and nowhere else)–is growing rapidly across the country: according to a 2016 Nielsen Scarborough survey, almost 16 million people in the U.S play soccer, professionally or informally, growing from 11 million in 2009. The variables that contribute to its mass appeal are easy to distinguish. All you need to play is a ball (composed of virtually any material), a flat surface (of any size), and a goal.
The game’s continued growth seems inevitable. The concern is whether everyone that wants to play soccer will get equal footing on the pitch or not. One of the pitfalls of rapid growth may be that it leads to a homogenous style of play where some players excel and others get pushed out. It’s almost guaranteed you could drop into any pick up game and find mostly young men emulating a trick or a shot performed by their cis-male soccer hero of choice on some grand stage the night before. People reproduce patterns and behaviors.
With the advancing commodification of soccer, images of fútbol fantasy become ubiquitous and all-consuming. Advertisements promote cis-gender body-types and individualistic playing styles that are. If the meteoric growth of soccer is partially rooted in the capitalist dance between the entertainment and gender norms, can we expect room to be made for those that don’t fit the mold?
The concern is whether everyone that wants to play soccer will get equal footing on the pitch or not.
Jasmin Pizano Luna, 21, grew up playing soccer in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. She was talented enough to play against older, more experienced players, but most boys would still exclude her from pick up games. On the rare occasions they let her join, the ball would hardly be passed to her.
In her neighborhood, young people would play soccer all the time, but that didn’t mean everyone has access to play. She says young women learn the difference early on. “It’s hard to separate playing soccer and being a girl,” she said. “As a girl, I have to prove myself as a good player first.”
Pizano Luna was raised in a working class family that struggled to pay for her soccer club team fees,…