Youth soccer league making changes after 25 reports of racism

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Youth Soccer Association, known as UYSA, is working to improve its response to racism on the soccer pitch.

The association reports 25 cases of racist comments this past season, which included 6,989 league games.

In all, there were 12 issues reported in the fall season, involving three parents-to-player altercations, two comments brought to referees that did not follow the UYSA process, three players who alleged racist comments, one racist comment on the field where a referee wasn't informed, two calls against players, parents or coaches and one where the process was followed, according to League Commissioner Scot Boyd.

During the spring season that just concluded, the league reported 7,509 games played and 13 alleged racist incidents. Boyd said there were six racist comments from players, twice when teams accused referees of being racist due to certain calls or comments; once when a parent issued a racist statement; once when a parent accused another parent of being racist; and, three times when the UYSA-designated process was followed.

Of the 25 total issues in the 2023-24 competition soccer league season, one issue resulted in a parent's indefinite suspension.

"We have been aware, for the last couple of years, too many incidents happening that we felt had racial undertones," Boyd said.

Diego Godoy is the founder of Utah Rio Futbol Club and has four children who play soccer in Utah.

He said he and his friends have heard racist comments both on and off the field on multiple occasions.

"The other players called him 'monkey,'" Godoy said of his son. "And I said, 'Why do you say that?' And they're like, 'Well you've got big ears, and that's why you're a monkey.'"

He said he feels the UYSA isn't taking the issue seriously, adding that his daughter once left the field crying because a coach on the other team made a discriminatory comparison of his daughter to a movie character.

"The coach was making fun of her, saying like, 'Oh, don't worry, we have our own Coco,' regarding to the movie 'Coco,'" Godoy said.

He said he has been punished by referees for speaking to his players in Spanish.

"Ninety percent of my players are Hispanic," he said. "Even the white kids that I have, I speak in Spanish because they understand."

Godoy said his club now records every game because of how frequently they encounter racism.

"It's expensive to our club to spend money on these things, but we started getting so many issues," he said.

Jennifer Lambert, who also has children who play the sport, was present was for one particular incident caught on camera.

"A particular player in a position that was upset with our coach, who was trying to get the ref's attention to clarify a call that was made — wanted to verify, was not shouting — very calmly trying to get the ref's attention, and this position on the other team shouted at our coach to 'Shut up and to go eat a taco,'" she recounted.

She said, on another occasion, the atmosphere became very hostile during a game.

"We're fine with competition; there's no problem with that," Lambert said. "However, the parents on the other side started shouting at us to go back to Mexico, which I thought, I didn't quite understand that. I heard it right."

Lambert said she and her husband emailed UYSA to report both incidents.

"We were very detailed in our emails," she said, adding that they did not ever get a response from the league concerning the comments about Mexico. She said there was disciplinary action taken for the incident caught on camera, but she was disappointed by the other team's response on the field.

"The coach on the opposing team wanted to make sure that they verified that they had the win, that that was the big concern," Lambert said.

Godoy said he has heard racist comments from other players, parents, coaches and even referees.

"It's hard to see a kid with tears in their eyes, so we will like to see changes," he said.

UYSA response

Boyd said UYSA leadership takes racist incidents very seriously.

"We want to eliminate every single one of these incidents if we possibly can," he said. The association updated a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination this past season.

Boyd walked through the changes during a presentation in March, including a slide titled with the "n-word" ending in an "a."

The slide reads, "UYSA was humiliated this last summer when 3 of our players were ejected and then suspended for the entirety of Far West Regionals and Regional President's Cup. DON'T USE IT!"

That slide, and others in the updated policy, include specific guidance for referees on how to respond the moment a complaint is made.

"Now, if a statement is made, you get in touch with the referee," he said. "You let the referee know the statement was made. The referee will stop the game, send both teams to the other sideline, talk to the complaining sideline, get the information, go back to the other sideline, explain what was going on."

Boyd said the referee would then investigate immediately and talk to both coaches. He said, typically, a verbal warning is issued.

"If the referee hears it and it's a racist comment by a player on the field, they're going to be ejected in almost all circumstances," he said.

He said the same policy goes for parents.

"If the referee hears it, they're going to eject the parent; they will then write up a report to me," Boyd said.

Boyd is confident with this updated process, but acknowledged, if it doesn't work, they're open to creating a multicultural board to investigate incidents of racism at games, something Godoy supports.

"We're like kind of tired of the sent emails because we know what's going to happen," he said. He believes incidents of racism within the association are underreported.

The most important thing to him, he said, is making sure players are heard.

"Right out of the gate, making sure they understand that it's not them, it's the other person. They're one hundred percent at fault," Boyd said. "And we don't like that behavior, we don't want that behavior, we don't need those people there who are going to participate in that behavior."

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