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The high-pressure commercialization of the youth sports pipeline knows no bounds.



European Soccer—the worst offender—has stopped trafficking in children. Barcelona and Real Madrid were made to pay.

In 2001, FIFA began regulations for the protections of minors. At first, players under age 16 were forbidden from being sold—but it wasn’t enforced as long as both clubs were mutually agreeable. Stories of kids being signed at ages 7 to 11 were rampant. But a few years ago, FIFA’s subcommittee finally put teeth to the rule. Players in Europe could transfer at age 16. Elsewhere,
it was forbidden until age 18. First Barcelona, then Real Madrid, were handed transfer bans; and over a dozen youth players they had signed from Asia, Africa and the Americas—including two boys from California—were forbidden to play for the Spanish clubs’ youth academies. Most boys eventually returned home.

There is a way around the rule—secure citizenship in the desired country, often through family heritage, such as the USMNT’s 17-year-old striker Christian Pulisic—but, by and large, the era of buying and selling of youth players across national borders has ended.

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