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Accepted Paper:

Familiar and extraordinary hopes: football, global inequality, and the distribution of hope between Europe and West Africa  
Uroš Kovač (University of Groningen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines hopes and future-making practices of aspiring football migrants in West Africa, and self-aggrandizing narratives of hope and opportunity offered by the global football industry. The paper seeks to revisit anthropological debates on global inequality and distribution of hope.

Paper long abstract:

“Football is about opportunity, about hope … We need to find ways to include the whole world to give hope to Africans so that they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find maybe a better life but, more probably, death in the sea.” Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, January 2022.

Since the 1990s, an increasing number of young men from countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon have aspired to play football as a career and a strategy to migrate abroad. Inspired by some of their select few age-mates who have signed contracts with clubs in Europe, they see football as a migration trajectory both familiar and extraordinary, and join football academies that promise fulfilment of childhood dreams to earn a living through migration and play. For the young men, a key promise of football as a “career” is a life of dedication to the widely beloved sport, and the idea that discipline, training, and focus will bring results despite the odds, an ideology that trickles down from elite sports to numerous aspiring young men, mediated by images of successful (and wealthy) international footballers from Africa. This paper, based on fieldwork in Southwest Cameroon, examines these young men’s hopes, aspirations, and future-making practices, as well as self-congratulatory narratives of hope, opportunity, and inclusion (such as the one quoted above) offered by the multi-billion-dollar global football industry, in order to revisit anthropological debates on links between global inequality and distribution of hope.

Panel P085b
Prepackaged hopes and ready-made paths of transformation II
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -