EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P008)
Transnational sport migrants and human futures
Location U6-22
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Niko Besnier (Universiteit van Amsterdam) email
  • Carmen Rial (Federal University of Santa Catarina) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The mobility of athlete professionals from the Global South to the Global North pose central problems for the meaning of work, the reconfiguration of age and gender hierarchies, the transformation of kinship structures, and the important role of religion for many migrant athletes.

Long Abstract

In many parts of the world, the possibility of becoming a successful professional athlete mobilizes the dreams and actions of numerous young men and women, fueled by the hope of regaining productive economic citizenship in the context of poverty, marginality and immobility. But athletic talent only translates into the possibility of economic productivity in the industrial North, and athletic migrations have become, for large number of boys and girls, youth, families, villages, nations and states in the Global South, the way out of economic precarity and the embodiment of millenarian hope. At the same time, athletic bodies are inherently fragile, the sports industry fickle, and the paths of migrant athletes strewn with obstacles that often lead to immobility or failed mobility. Immobility can take many forms, including the geographical immobility of the migrant stranded in a foreign country as a result of failure or deceit, and the socio-economic immobility of the athlete unable to perform because of age or injury. This panel seeks to explore ways in which the transnational mobility of professional athletes and the dreams of athletic success help us reconsider central themes in socio-cultural anthropology: the meaning of work and its transformations across time and space; the reconfiguration of age and gender hierarchies that wealth can engender; the transformation of kinship through remittances and dependence; and the important role that religion plays in the lives of many migrant athletes.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Mystical wrestlers vs rational footballers: enacting masculinity in Senegal's sporting arenas

Author: Mark Hann (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Comparing the diverging trajectories of aspiring Senegalese wrestlers and football players, I identify masculinity, mobility and magico-religious practice as areas of change and contention.

Long Abstract

In many parts of Africa, football is not only the most popular spectator sport - it also offers a pathway out of economic hardship through the dream of a professional career. In Senegal, football's predominance is rivalled by the increasingly lucrative sporting discipline of lamb ji: traditional wrestling with punches. Many young men actively pursue careers in one of these two sports, which diverge significantly from one another in their orientation towards global and local forces. Whereas the globalized sport of football is inextricably linked with economic projects of migration to the Global North, wrestling presents itself as a resolutely local and community-based activity steeped heavily in magico-religious beliefs and rituals. Comparing the hopes, practices and trajectories of aspiring footballers and wrestlers, I identify masculinity as an area of heated debate and contention. How are competing ideals of masculine success enacted in the sporting arena? How do football and wrestling construct specific expectations and inform decision-making processes? And how do young athletes negotiate the web of complex and contradictory pressures involving religion, tradition, migration, morality, family and professionalism within which they find themselves? The contrasting involvement of athletes in magico-religious practices offers one salient example of these contradictory pressures. By collapsing the distinction between 'mystical' wrestlers and 'rational' footballers, I suggest that sport can serve as a lens through which to study changing masculinities in a globalized world.

Sports, Pentecostalism, and desire for mobility among aspiring footballers in Cameroon

Author: Uroš Kovač (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Pentecostal Christianity serves as a part of the solution to key issues that aspiring Cameroonian footballers encounter in their struggle to achieve an athletic career: forced immobility and closure of borders, and danger of sexual temptations.

Long Abstract

Young aspiring footballers in Cameroon, who despite all odds dream of being transnationally mobile through professional contracts with European football clubs, are increasingly joining Pentecostal Christian denominations and consulting Pentecostal preachers and prophets ("Men of God"). Two key practices stand out as central for the young footballers. The first is the anointing of their newly acquired passports which are being prepared for visa applications. The second is the exorcism of "mammiwata", a female spirit from the marine world who stands for sexual temptation. These practices serve as a way for young footballers to address the key difficulties they perceive in their aspiration to sporting success. The intertwinement of these practices shows that epitome of success for the young footballers - mobility out of the country - largely depends on regulation of gendered and, in this case, sexual behavior. Pentecostal Christianity serves the young footballers as a convenient way to address their key concerns: forced immobility and closure of borders, and danger of sexual temptations.

Dependence, obligation and improving livelihoods: the importance of remittances for Kenyan migrant athletes in Japan

Author: Michael Peters (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Kenyan runner migrants in Japan face enormous pressure to conform to a transnational system of dependence and obligation. My fieldwork identifies obstacles the runners face and explores how they improvise suitable responses to meet expectations of responsible adulthood.

Long Abstract

This presentation seeks to uncover and interrogate an important component of social and economic mobility and the path to a better life through an exploration of the experiences of Kenyan runner migrants in Japan. Fueled by a commonly held perception in Kenya that migrants are able to provide generously, Kenyan runners in Japan are embedded in a transnational system of dependence and obligations to meet the needs of family and friends. While this can stand in conflict with the ideals of fiscal and familial responsibility held by the Japanese organizations that the runners belong to, most of these runners intend to eventually return to Kenya and therefore cannot risk isolating themselves socially. A responsible adult is one who contributes to family and community; for the runners in Japan, the most feasible option to contribute is through remittances. From the receivers' perspective, remittances do not only satisfy their own immediate needs (e.g. housing, education), but can also serve to heighten status by providing a source of capital that may be redistributed among networks of relatives and friends. The Kenyan runners in Japan understand the importance of remittances and feel the pressure to provide more than what would normally be expected if they never left Kenya. This presentation will draw on my fieldwork in Japan to highlight the obstacles the runners encounter, the dynamics of lending and borrowing between the runners, and the benefits associated with remittances for both the senders and receivers.

'Looking good and moving on': not-so-successful West African football migrants in Poland

Author: Pawel Banas (Universiteit van Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

The mobility of young footballers from West Africa to Poland allows for a more nuanced understanding of meaning of success and failure that moves beyond the binary opposition of a high profile superstar and a victim duped by an unscrupulous agent prevalent in prior research on mobility in football.

Long Abstract

Sport occupies a privileged position among migration strategies of youth from the Global South. For young West African footballers athletic success in the Global North brings the promise of a pathway out of marginalization and poverty, and an opportunity to achieve social adulthood. Yet only a tiny fraction of thousands of young hopefuls actually make it in professional football in the Global North. Countless others who manage to migrate do not see their dream of playing professionally in one of the top European leagues come to fruition. Instead they end up on the fringes of professional football playing in lower divisions of marginal leagues. Since return home as a failed migrant is not an option, transnational football migrants from West Africa often are compelled to create an alternative avenue to achieve social personhood. The mobility of football players from West Africa to Poland illustrates precarious character of athletic migrations. At the same time, it offers a window into numerous ways Nigerian footballers negotiate their dreams and aspirations to not only overcome marginalization within local (and global) football, but also fulfill social obligations back home. Diverse realities and lived experiences of West African football migrants in Poland allow for a more nuanced and contextualized understanding of meaning of success and failure that moves beyond the binary opposition of a high profile superstar and a helpless victim duped by an unscrupulous agent prevalent in prior research on football migration from West Africa to Global North.

The global warrior and his quest for recognition and inclusion: exploring the different facets of the transnational mobility of male Māori rugby players

Author: Domenica Gisella Calabrò (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Favored by the romanticized view of the Māori warrior/rugby player, the global mobility of male Māori rugby players mirrors and complicates their pursuit of recognition as indigenous men and socioeconomic inclusion, and impacts on their communities, generating ambivalent experiences and opinions.

Long Abstract

Portrayed as the incarnation of their ancient warrior tradition, Māori rugby has acquired an international reputation in the professional era of the sport. It has opened up overseas opportunities, particularly in Europe, for the many Māori men who view rugby as the expression of an indigenous masculinity, and a place where they can achieve, but do not always find a space in New Zealand rugby. Similarly to what occurs in New Zealand, Māori view overseas rugby achievements as contributing to their recognition as indigenous people, and the socioeconomic inclusion of Māori men. Concurrently, some Māori fear that players moving overseas become distanced from their communities and that concepts like wealth replace the values ideally associated with Māori rugby like the notion of mana (spiritual prestige). Some players instead experience disappointment and distress, for their communities' absence or playing in areas where rugby is not highly considered might engender the feeling that their prestige as Māori men is not recognized. Overseas, Māori might also enjoy coaching opportunities, which are usually precluded at home because of stereotypes, such as lack of discipline and technicality. However, the international popularity of a romanticized interpretation of the Māori warrior reinforces a process reducing Māori men to a body. The transnational mobility of Māori rugby men thus contributes to the exploration of contemporary contested aspirations in a globalised world, and the observation of changing kinship structures, while advancing the analysis of the way sport and gender mingle with notions of belonging, citizenship, and global condition.

Mobility as continuous process: transnational perspectives on agency and sports labour migration from Nigeria to Europe

Author: Mari Engh (University of KwaZulu-Natal)  email

Short Abstract

I will draw on empirical material from a study of Nigerian women’s football migration, to pose the argument that sports labour migration might is best understood through a focus on migrant agency, and the processes through which mobility is produced, re-produced and maintained.

Long Abstract

In this presentation I will draw on empirical material from a case study of the migrations of Nigerian women footballers, to pose arguments about how to approach athletic migrations from the Postcolonial South to the Global North, as well as the role that migrants themselves play in producing and maintaining mobility. I argue for the need for analytical approaches to (sports) labour migration that do not rely on linear models with narrow definitions of success. For instance, what happens to our analyses when we presume that labour migrants do not have stable and fixed aspirations regarding their professional and migratory careers? I present an analysis that is attuned to the diversity of aspirations among sports labour migrants, as well as to the changing desires and circumstances in a particular migrant's career. I suggest that sports labour migration might be better analysed through paying attention the processes though which mobility is produced, re-produced and maintained. In this, migrants are not inanimate objects or commodites that are moved by external forces alone. Rather, their performances, and the work they put into finding and sustaining employment is crucial in maintaining mobilities. This work, however, happens within particular contexts, and is shaped by local and transnational ideas about race, class, gender and physical capacities. Hence, it is not just the desires and efforts of migrants that affect their opportunities for transnational mobility, but also ideas, in the Global North, about the identities, bodies, capacities, and dreams of labour migrants from the Postcolonial South.

"¿De qué vivís?" Historical and contemporary notes about the significance of work among Argentine rugby players

Author: Sebastian Fuentes (Universiteit van Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

From an ethnography conducted among youth and families of the upper middle and upper class in Buenos Aires, we focus on the moralized connection with work, money and the source of economic dependence, mobilized historically by these actors as a response? to rugby professionalization.

Long Abstract

The significance given to work and the economic dependency ("de qué vivís") is a key to understand the history and transformations of capitalist societies. Anthropology has dealt with the analysis of exchange relations, gratuity and trade as well as the senses that workers in different national contexts and geographical mobility give to work, and the relationships between work, social reproduction, and changes in the structures of kinship. This paper reflects on the meaning given to work by men located, for more than half a century, in the middle and upper positions of Argentina society, who have built a position as intellectual workers, and also play amateur rugby. From an ethnography conducted among youth and families of those social sectors, we focus on the analysis of the moralized connection with work, money and the source of economic dependence (professional activity, not sports), mobilized by these actors as a response to rugby professionalization. The paper explores the moralized relationship with money as a way to build an independent "national" class through relationships and exchanges between nations that tournaments made possible. In recent years, with the globalization of economic relations and sports industry, are undergoing a profound transformation of local, regional and global rugby. Each international confrontation is a way to "improve" competing with the best teams, to position the Argentina and its players as an important rugby nation. But those contacts and exchanges also favor the expansion of professional and market criteria, changing the dominance of amateur rugby.

The female soccer in São Paulo city: professionalization, gender, sexuality and race among women's soccer players

Author: Mariane Pisani (Universidade de São Paulo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to analyze the trajectories of women who are soccer players in Brazil. I start the analysis articulating the categories of gender, sexuality and race. Thus can be showed how they mark the differences, delimit agency and elaborate distinct possibilities of living through the sports.

Long Abstract

This work is part of doctoral research in Anthropology from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Aims to analyze the trajectories of women who are soccer players in São Paulo. I start the analysis articulating the categories of gender, sexuality and race. Thus can be showed how they mark the differences, delimit agency and elaborate distinct possibilities of living through the sports.

The outskirts of São Paulo city, where the female soccer team Associação Atlética Pró-Esporte (ASAPE) is based, is a region considered of extreme social vulnerability. The young athletes of ASAPE have between 14 and 25 years old; they identify themselves as black women; belonging to low income population and mostly lesbians. Some quit school without completing high school. They all work to supplement their family income. Most of them have a history of domestic violence. To these women, soccer is an opportunity to subvert this kind of situation because the sport can promote social improvements, especially if they are called to play in women's soccer national team. To be able to keep playing soccer, they have to struggle daily with several hindrances: lack of sponsorship, lack of sport equipment for training and competition, the lack of specific female soccer division and lack of games.

Even if in Brazil the soccer can be a non-inclusion space for women, owing to many sexist and homophobic prejudices a transformation is announced, even if in a slow pace.

Race, body and competing marginality in postcolonial cricket in Trinidad

Author: Adnan Hossain (The University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Young hopefuls’ struggle to become professional cricketers in the Caribbean offers a window onto the critical intersection of race, body, masculinity and regionalism that continue to shape contemporary Caribbean society.

Long Abstract

Both historically and contemporaneously, young men in the Caribbean have viewed the possibility of becoming a professional cricketer as a path out of poverty and obscurity. Yet only a lucky few are able to make it to play for the West Indies (a collection of 15 Caribbean countries split into six territories) while the vast majority of young hopefuls continue to adhere to cricket in an amateurish vein. The scenario, however, changed slightly with Trinidad, the richest county in the Caribbean introducing a semi-professional cricket league from the mid-1980s onwards in Trinidad and hiring overseas players of other Caribbean countries. There are however more Indo-Guyanese than cricketers of any other country in Trinidad, a fact that Trinidadians explain in terms of the geographic proximity, deep poverty in Guyana and the shared history of East Indian indentureship and labor migration to these two countries. Although Trinidadian cricket today is dominated by Indo-Trinidadians, a race and body-based discourse of exclusion of Indo-Caribbean people from the West Indies cricket informs the forging of solidarity between the Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinidadian. On the other hand, the Guyanese and Trinidadian Afro-Caribbean cricketers often take pride in the black dominance of the West Indies cricket and point towards the contemporary dominance of Indians in cricket in Trinidad and Guyana as engendering conditions not conducive to their inclusion. The picture that emerges is one of competing paradigms of marginality and a simultaneous quest for belonging that continue to shape the Caribbean region.

Ambiguous precarity in sports labour migration. the case of African male and female footballers

Authors: Christian Ungruhe (Aarhus University)  email
Sine Agergaard (Aarhus University, DK)  email

Short Abstract

Engaging with transnational African football migration, this paper proposes the concept of ambiguous precarity as an approach to combine perspectives of structure and agency in problematic fields of labour. Doing so, it also contributes to debates on the meaning of work in anthropology beyond sport.

Long Abstract

Transnational migrants are often considered to be the core of the new global precariat (e.g. due to the outsourcing of underpaid and risky forms of labour to migrant workers and the attribution of precarious citizenship status to them). However, accounts of labor migrants bring to the fore that precarity is not exclusively based on poverty, marginality, misery and exploitation but that it also consists of ambiguous conditions and perceptions. Referring to Standing's concept of precariatization (2011), this paper aims to scrutinize the ambiguity of precarity in labour migration as in the case of transnational athletes. Drawing on material from multi-sited field studies among aspiring and current male and female African football players moving to Europe it applies an anthropological perspective of work, migration and precarity. Covering the whole migration process of transnational athletes from imagining, becoming transferred, being recognized and approaching the end of a career as footballers in Europe the range of precariatization processes become apparent when linking the many young people who strive to migrate with the few individuals who are successful. The lens of football migration allows to identify the ambiguities in precarity by identifying both mobility and immobility on a spatial and social level inherent in labour migration processes. By applying the concept of ambiguous precarity and combining perspectives of structure and agency the paper adds on existing research of South-North sport migration as well as it contributes to wider debates on the meaning of work in contexts of migration and precarity in anthropology.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.