Throughout world football, diversity has always been a subject of concern within positions of power at both the club and international levels.
For Real Salt Lake Academy Director of Coaching Arnold Rijsenburg, his personal view of diversity was structured on first-hand experiences throughout his time coaching at various levels throughout Europe. Having narrowing opportunities at European clubs due to his race – despite owning all of the necessary licenses to coach at the highest level – Rijsenburg sought new opportunities to use his knowledge and experience to better the young players he coached, rather than be judged on the color of his skin.
But when he arrived at Real Salt Lake, his view changed and after meeting the Academy players and Club technical staff and understanding goals of the RSL pathway, Rijsenburg knew that the club understood the value of diversity within an organization.
Real Salt Lake is one of just two clubs within the league that has a black academy director, something both the club and Rijsenburg take great pride in.
“In Belgium I have a lot of friends, some of them academy directors, but I was always the assistant coach, the second team coach,” Rijsenburg reflected. “I always felt like that is how people perceived my ceiling. When RSL interviewed me, they took me for my ideas and who I was. They didn’t care if I was green, yellow, white. It didn’t matter to them. To be in this same position in Belgium would’ve been impossible for me and I’ll forever be grateful for this opportunity.”
Rijsenburg arrived in the United States in the middle of one of the most troubling civil issues in our nation’s history but he arrived with a renewed perspective on racial equality.
“I’ve experienced racism from a very young age and everyone always said it was part of the game and I always thought to myself: “Why does this have to be part of a sport or sport in general?” In Europe they minimiaize racism more than Americans do. That’s why I’m trying to change these things within an environment where I feel valued,” added Rijsenburg.
While working as the RSL Academy Director of Coaching to better the players and staff at the club, Rijsenburg has also taken a leading role in educating people from around Major League Soccer and beyond to help lead the way together with Black Players for Change as well as the Black Coach Advocacy Group lead by Nicole Hercules.
“If we can teach the boys at our Academy the values and they go home and teach one person, that is progress,” Rijsenburg said. “Racism is out of the question around the world and it starts with self reflection and education. That’s what we’re trying to do.”