(University of Amsterdam)
Paper Short Abstract:
Many young Cameroonian men see training and playing football as the most attractive opportunity to migrate abroad and avoid becoming labeled as "useless" by their families. But opportunities in football are limited, and young men turn to Pentecostal Christianity for solutions to social immobility.
Paper long abstract:
In 2005, a prominent football club in Southwest Cameroon assembled a team of 22 players and flew them to Italy to take part in a youth football tournament. One week later, when the time came to board a return flight, ten players went "missing", and "fled" the team in order to stay in Europe. Some of them emerged in Italian football clubs, but encountered allegations of carrying "fake" documents. Others found work elsewhere in Europe. A well-known "incident" in Southwest Cameroon, the event brought to light issues and dilemmas of young Cameroonian men who are increasingly considering football as a migration trajectory: what counts as legitimate work and migration; what constitutes "cheating" and what does not; and the notion of self-responsibility in the face of novel and alluring, but highly uncertain possibilities. Strikingly, many young footballers consult Pentecostal Christian "Men of God" and join denominations that promote individual responsibility, continuous struggle despite hardships, and possibility of miraculous success. Dilemmas of young Cameroonians who aspire to migrate through football, a transnational industry grounded in neoliberal principles of deregulation and free enterprise, reveal the changing ways that young men seek social mobility in the post-structural-adjustment period, and how they articulate their efforts in terms of millenarian spiritual ideologies. Pentecostalism allows the young men to deal with the "cruel optimism" (Berlant 2011) of the sport industry, but also to challenge a model of virile masculinity often associated with footballers, all part of an effort to overcome social and geographical immobility.
Social mobility in the neoliberal age: practices, relations, expectations, and desires