Internationalization of Sports vs. Boredom: British Football Club Features, Shockingly, British Players
December 31, 2017, 07:23 AM
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The New York Times Upshot section has a number of graphs showing various team sports leagues and the native countries of their players over time. For example, 75-80% of players in the English soccer league were from England or Wales (gray section of graph), and most of the rest from other parts of the British Isles, until the mid-1990s. Now only 34% of the players in the English Premier League are English.

One EPL team, Burnley, currently in 7th place out of 20 teams in the first division, stands out. From the Independent:

Burnley, Brexit and Britishness: The Premier League’s most interesting club and how it represents society’s split

Burnley are a demographic outlier, an enclave of footballing ‘Britishness’ in a sport where national borders can seem largely fluid

Jonathan Liew Chief Sports Writer @jonathanliew Friday 22 December 2017 12:44 GMT

And this is not simply a matter of culture but personnel: in a Premier League that stands as a monument to sporting globalism, the squad currently in sixth place is drawn almost exclusively from the British Isles. A smattering from Scandinavia and the English-speaking Commonwealth. Belgium’s Steven Defour. Austria’s Ashley Barnes, actually born and raised in Bath. That’s everyone.

… For example, the club has never signed a player from Asia or north Africa. Their only Latin American (goalkeeper Diego Penny) made just one league start a decade ago. Meanwhile, not a single Premier League minute this season has been played by a non-white footballer.

Internationalization of team sports has gotten dull. Nationalization, too. Perhaps the future belongs to the entrepreneur who figures out how to make regionalization work.

As a Southern Californian, for example, I appreciated that this year UCLA’s and USC’s star quarterbacks were SoCal kids. Similarly, I follow baseball slugger Giancarlo Stanton’s career because he went to my old high school.

I’d much rather root for professional teams of players who grew up in my part of the country, not to mention in other countries.

One problem is that it is so useful to recruit across country. For example, when UCLA coach John Wooden was asked wasn’t it a criticism of his coaching skills that he had gone 3,000 miles to recruit 7’2″ Lew Alcindor away from New York, he said, “You can’t coach quickness.”

Of course, players want the largest market for their skills imaginable.

Another problem is designing regions that have roughly equal amounts of talent so that leagues are competitive. For example, the soccer World Cup is immensely popular because it’s nationalistic, but the same limited number of countries always win.

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