International Panel on Sport Migration and Identity at the European Social Science History Conference

Start date

Friday, 20 Mar 2020, 09:00

End date

Friday, 20 Mar 2020, 17:00

Prof. dr. Gijsbert Oonk organizes International Panel on Sport Migration and Identity at the European Social Science History Conference in Leiden on March 20th, 2020.

Overall, research on sports labour migration started almost three decades ago with the pioneering works of John Bale and Joseph Maguire (Bale 1991; Bale and Maguire 1994). International sports migrants need to be considered in the context of leaving their country of origin, adapting their lives to and in a foreign environment, and the developments within the political economies of sports, labour migration and nationhood. Most of the studied cases are related to countries in the Global North and South America because of their interconnectedness through international migration. However, these were soon supplemented with cases of sports migrants, in particular football players, from Africa who went to play in European leagues and East African athletes, mainly (long distance) runners, who moved to countries in Europe as well as the Middle East (Bale 2004; Carter 2011; Darby, 2000, 2002, 2007; Lanfranchi and Taylor 2001; Poli 2006, 2010).
These researches are primarily focused on male athletes. Sine Agergaard and Mari Haugaa Engh are amongst the few who have complemented the existent literature on sports migrants with a focus on women migrant players; looking at migratory routes between African (Nigerian) and Scandinavian football clubs (2013) and the global distribution of female football players (Agergaard and Tiesler 2014). Recently, Niko Besnier, Susan Brownell and Thomas F. Carter have taken up the challenge to write on sports from an anthropological perspective, thereby focussing on issues of class, race, gender within sports labour migration (Besnier, Brownell, Carter 2018). While these studies include questions of (international) migration, cultural adaptation of migrants, legal processes of visa and citizenship, and the political economy of highly skilled (athlete) labour, they scarcely focus on the extraordinary cases of migrant athletes who represent their non-native country at either the football World Cup or at the Olympic Games (Jansen, Engbersen 2018/Campenhout Oonk 2019).

This is striking as the correlation between citizenship, nation and state has been called into question over the last few decades. Transnationalism, multiple and flexible citizenship (Ong 1999; Vertovec 2007) and the discourses in the rights and obligations of citizens and migrants are increasingly changing. However, this often concerned illegal migrants, refugees, temporary (labour) migrants, diaspora (Cohen 1998) and professionals who wished to become full citizens and so on (Sassen 1996; Vertovec 2007). Usually the migration of highly skilled athletes does not play a part in this discourse. However, the migration of talented athletes may be defined as a part of the migration of highly skilled professionals. In fact it might be argued that the migration of highly skilled and well known athletes shape the public discourse in the mass media on migration, citizenship and (national) identity. Therefore, the ‘global battle for talent’ and the migration of highly talented athletes offer a unique case to study elite migration, especially in the context where states provide ‘fast track citizenship exchanges’ (Shachar 2009). Migration of individual athletes, changes of clubs and citizenships are discussed in the media. Therefore, it can be studied through newspapers, magazines, institutional archives (international and national) and oral history. In fact these visible publicly debated examples often shape the debate nation, nationality and citizenship.
In this panel we will focus on (labour) migrant athletes in both association and international football and the Olympics. Within this broad context of sport migration, we aim to discuss aspects of elite migration, changing citizenship regimes and complex issues around nationality and identity (Oonk 2015; Jansen, Engbersen and Oonk 2018). We highlight the paradox of states promoting the ‘nation’ without ‘nationals’ (Shachar 2009; Van Sterkenburg 2007). The case of talented sport elites is relevant because of their high profile in the media. The debates on ‘citizenship’ and ‘national identity’ are continuously contested and discussed, and its cases often shape the ‘national’ debate . Arguably, states increasingly accept – even stimulate – ‘imported’ or migrated talented athletes to promote their country’s name and fame in major sporting events such as the Olympic Games or the World Cup football. On the one hand, these activities increase the freedom of mobility and options for talented athletes to perform at the global stage. On the other hand, if states wish to increase their chances on success within international sports events by using talent without any prior relationship with their country, this stretches the notion of ‘nationality’ and ‘national belonging’.

Invited speakers

Prof. Dr. Sine Agergaard: Professor mso, PhD, Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, Denmark. She will talk about women, sport and integration in Denmark.
Dr. Christian Ungruhe: Christian Ungruhe is a social anthropologist working in the fields of migration, youth, work and sport in West Africa and Northern and Central Europe.
Drs. Gijs van Campenhout: Gijs focuses on the history of ‘nationality transfers’ of football players in the context of elite migration, changing nationality and ‘complex citizenship’ issues.