‘Net-gains’: Informal recruiting, Canadian players and British professional ice hockey
The migrations of athletes have become a prominent feature of global sports worlds (Maguire, 1999; Maguire et al., 2002). In many sports, athletes are migrating within nation states, between nation states on the same continent and beyond their own continents. Contemporary sporting culture is marked by athletic labour flows that increasingly traverse geographical, political, cultural, ethnic and economic boundaries. This chapter revisits research that has been conducted in the sociology of sport. More importantly, however, attention is given to the increasingly dynamic area of highly skilled migration. By drawing on concepts derived from the sociology of highly skilled migration, it can be argued that an understanding of the global migrations of athletic workers is enhanced. A synthesis is developed on the understanding that, whilst athletic and highly skilled workers are not totally equivalent, highly skilled migration increasingly involves the movements of workers from a range of fields, including athletic workers, who are increasingly employed as highly skilled ‘specialty labour’ (Castells, 2000, p. 130). The majority of researchers who have examined the movement of athletic
workers have done so within the confines of the athletic sphere. That is to say that few sociologists of sport have broadened their vision to include concepts derived from those studies examining the movement of other non-athletic but highly skilled workers. Equally, those writers examining the migrations of the highly skilled have restricted their focus to those professionals based in various sectors of international business, such as information technology (Khadria, 2001), finance, banking, accounting (Beaverstock, 1991, 1996, 2005) or law (Dezalay, 1990; Beaverstock, 2004). Arguably, much can be learnt by developing a synthesis that draws on concepts derived from research that has examined the movements of highly skilled workers and research that has analysed the migrations of athletic workers. However, to this point, Maguire (1996), Miller et al. (2001) and Elliott and Maguire (2008) are the only writers to make use of research located beyond the sociology of sport. In providing a conceptual synthesis which draws on research located within the
sociology of sport and the sociology of highly skilled migration, and in capturing how some athletic migrations actually occur, this chapter is based on a critical case study. Here, then, we examine the mechanisms through which Canadian ice hockey players are recruited to teams in Britain’s professional ice hockey league:
the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). For these athletic workers, mutually beneficial recruitments are facilitated using similar mechanisms to those identified in research examining the movement of highly skilled workers. For both types of workers, recruitments do not always occur through more formal channels where agents or consultants are employed. Rather, they are facilitated by informal communicative channels maintained by networks of interdependent relationships. To show how migrations can be facilitated using interdependent networks of
relationships specific attention is given to two studies which have examined the processes by which migrant workers can be recruited. In the first part of the chapter Bale’s (1991) ‘friends-of-friends’ networks are examined in the context of athletic recruitment, whilst Meyer’s (2001) concept of the ‘bridgehead’ is considered in the context of highly skilled recruitment. In the second part of the chapter a ‘developmental’ (Maguire, 2005) account helps to contextualise the ‘place’ of British ice hockey both in a global and local sense. Such a contextualisation is important when comprehending how recruiting practices have developed in the way that they have for workers in the EIHL. Following this contextualisation, the specific responses of EIHL players, coaches, managers, team owners and agents are examined. These responses show how the recruitments of migrant labourers in the EIHL are facilitated using informal mechanisms.