A Dutch football club has announced it will no longer accept new junior members of foreign descent. It is not the only amateur club struggling with immigrant parents who - organisations claim - do less than their share to keep their clubs running.
Sports bags were cast onto the pitch, quickly followed by two boys who wriggled their way through the fence surrounding it. It was 6:15 on a Thursday evening: practice time for the youngest members of amateur football club GLZ, located amidst Rotterdam's multi-ethnic neighbourhoods.
Junior coach Hatip Ersoy, on his way to the pitch with a net full of footballs, said he had been left aghast by the decision announced by Quick 1888 last week. This amateur football club in Nijmegen will be putting children of foreign descent who apply for membership on a waiting list, while allowing native Dutch youth members.
"The stupidest thing they could do," Ersoy said. "Isn't a club supposed to be a reflection of its neighbourhood?"
Foreign parents don’t help out
The main motivation for Quick 1888's decision is that immigrant parents are generally less willing to spend time helping out at the club, either by staffing the cafeteria or by arranging for transport to away games. This is considered a sin at Dutch amateur football clubs, which are largely kept afloat by the goodwill and dedicated efforts of their members. Currently, over 80 percent of Quick 1888's juniors are of foreign descent, and it is suffering logistically as a result. Native Dutch are said to feel less and less at home at the club. Members of Nijmegen's city council have already expressed their misgivings about Quick 1888's new policy. Five mothers sitting in GLZ's canteen on Thursday night were also astounded by the move. "Not involved? Us?" said mother Dilek, who hardly missed any of her son's practice sessions in the last five years.
According to most football clubs, the issue is not new at all. A decade ago, the Utrecht club VSO set off the debate when it decided to study the lack of involvement in the club of immigrant parents. "It is a well known pattern," said Shams Raza, who led the inquiry. "Traditionally, Dutch clubs become less white as their neighbourhoods change colour. Then comes the clash. The board and the senior teams are often still made up of white people, but the younger players' ranks are increasingly non-native. The board often finds the resulting culture shift hard to swallow. Post-match beers are replaced by glasses of mint tea and board members are left to wonder when new volunteers will come forward."
André Bellekom, a junior coach at the The Hague football club, Quick Steps, said he vetted new juniors' parents as soon as they registered. "The first question I ask is: 'do you have a means of transport available on Saturdays?'" Bellekom said. "Parents often respond by asking, 'Isn't that your responsibility?' But we are not a taxi-service." Lack of transport to away games is one of the biggest problems Quick Steps has to deal with, as is the case at many other teams.
Annass Eddini, a specialised 'club organiser', charged with getting parents involved at Roodenburg Leiden football club, said the main problem was that non-native Dutch parents did not know what was expected of them in Dutch community life. "In the Netherlands, it goes without saying that children join a sports club. In Morocco, this is not the case. There, children just play out on the street."
No car, working weekends
Others ventured that the problem was mainly a matter of resources. "Parents either have to work on Saturdays or they don't have a car," said Gerard Houterman of the Utrecht club, Sporting '70. In 2008, he helped another Utrecht Club, VVOO, get its volunteer policy in order. Three out of four of VVOO's members were poor enough to qualify for special financial assistance, Houterman recalled. Government subsidies went a long way towards paying for the costs associated with membership. "It is a good thing that people with lower incomes are compensated for a lot of expenses, but it also does little to stimulate their sense of responsibility," Houterman said.
A lack of volunteers can spell the end for amateur football clubs. This is why clubs have tried their hardest to get immigrant parents involved in recent years. In 2002, VVOO closed down its entire junior division, only to reopen it immediately afterwards. All of its members' parents had to reapply for membership of the new organisation, this time promising in advance to volunteer. VVOO squads are now only allowed to participate in competitions if transport, a coach and a supervisor have all been provided for in advance. The board is of mixed ethnicity, coaches are Moroccan, the cafeteria serves halal meats and the board tries to instil club spirit in parents through sideline chats.
Last month, Quick Steps of The Hague organised a pitch-side breakfast of Turkish snacks in an attempt to engage junior players' parents. "Of our 130 juniors, about ten of their parents proved willing to help the club out," junior coach André Bellekom said.
'Everybody is welcome here'
Clubs surveyed said they thought turning down prospective members of foreign descent was a bridge too far. They all stressed that everyone was welcome at their clubs. Still, Quick 1888's new policy is by no means unique, said Agnes Elling, a scientist with the Mulier Institute for the social science of sports. "But it is mainly implicit. When Mohammed calls to register, the football club has no place left, but when Jeroen [a native Dutch name] does the same, suddenly, a spot has opened up. Clubs that used to actively recruit members of foreign descent through multicultural programmes have become reluctant now that other members are starting to leave," she said.
Appointing parents as coaches, holding parent-child tournaments, halal barbeques and organising seminars can all help to get parents acquainted with club life. "Often, communication is the problem," Elling said. "Parents think: 'why should I volunteer if I've already paid my dues?'"
The members are the club, added club organiser Eddini, but many foreign parents don’t know it. "This is particularly an issue with first generation immigrants, who often don't speak Dutch well," he said. According to social scientist Elling, a football club needs more than communication alone to successfully incorporate its foreign members. Boards also need to seat members of foreign descent.
GLZ, which had no shortage of – predominantly Turkish-Dutch – parents on its sidelines on a recent Thursday, already boasts an all-Turkish board. While the club, founded in 1930, may be "Dutch to the bone", as coach Bekir Akyayci put it, since the 1990s its board gradually became less so. Akyayci did not make much of the issue. "We are all Dutch, aren't we?" he said.
"In Turkey, community life is an even bigger deal than it is in the Netherlands," a father standing on the sidelines said. He leafed through a booklet outlining a Muslim code of conduct. "Helping each other out is important, as is physical exercise. That is what Mohammed says," the father said.
How come GLZ has plenty of parents willing to drive children around on match days? Simple, coach Akyayci said. "When parents register, we simply explain to them we need their help. But we don't boss them around by saying things like: 'you have to volunteer now'."