Ann Arbor soccer club chair to present on anti-racism at United Soccer League summit

Bilal Saeed, chair of the AFC Ann Arbor soccer club, will present on building anti-racist soccer clubs today at the United Soccer League's (USL) annual winter summit. Speaking on behalf of the Anti-Racist Soccer Club (ARSC), Saeed will be part of USL history. This year will be the first that the organization has hosted workshops on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

"It's really a significant step for us, because the audience will include all of the owners of the various USL groups and around 700 participants," Saeed says. "I think the opportunity is that if we can get a few of those clubs to take action, then the coalition can really build the momentum that is needed to make actual change."

Having been involved in the American soccer scene for many years as "a brown man with a Muslim name," Saeed shares that he has experienced several incidents of racism firsthand. He also became more aware of systemic issues that existed, particularly when considering ownership groups, league owners, and league executives.

"I came to recognize that it's a very white space and I struggled in terms of what action I could take," he says. "I thought that I'm just little AFC in Ann Arbor, and how could I possibly make any impact on soccer in the United States?"

An opportunity to make a difference came in 2020. At that time, many professional USL players across the country started to organize and form their own, player-led groups within the USL ecosystem, such as the USL Black Players Alliance and the Black Women's Player Collective. 

Something stood out to Saeed at that time. While he thought it was amazing that these initiatives were finally happening, he also felt the burden shouldn't be on the players.

"There needed to be action at the executive and ownership and operational level," he says. "Then I thought that even though I'm a smaller club, maybe I could use AFC Ann Arbor as an example of what folks can do locally and of what clubs can do to be anti-racist."

Saeed started talking with other people about forming a coalition, and soon ARSC was born, with a mission to promote diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism in the American soccer scene. He also started to work on what would eventually become a 10-Point Plan that guides clubs on how to fight racism and take action toward diversity and inclusion. When Saeed reached out to the USL earlier in the year about the coalition's work, league leaders were immediately enthused. They invited Saeed, along with the rest of the ARSC members, to share these 10 actionable points at the winter summit.

It was always Saeed's hope that the plan will be used as a guide for clubs to create their own 10-point plans that can function as a map on how to be anti-racist within the sport and within their own communities. 

"One thing we're going to communicate is, by doing this work, people are not only making an impact in their immediate communities," Saeed says. "They're literally growing the sport as they engage Black and brown communities."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo by Ray Rogers.