Transnational athletes: Celebrities and migrant players in fútbol and hockey
In the era of globalization the nation-state is seemingly declining. Supranational organizations, coupled with trade pacts, weaken laws to the benefit of transnational capital and effectively deregulate global movements of capital, goods and regulate people’s mobility. There seems to be a re-shaping of the nation-state as the site of mediation between the local and the global. At the same time, states, classes and political movements seek the re-affirmation of the nation and of nationalism giving priority to national identities (Poole, 1999, p. 74). Sport plays a part in both undermining and strengthening today’s nations and national identities. In this context we examine the cases of former celebrity transnational athletes in fútbol and hockey. Although we focus on ex-Chilean fútbol player Iván (Bam Bam) Zamorano and ex-Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky we also examine less prominent migrant sport workers in these sports. On the surface, Zamorano and Gretzky were ‘borderless athletes’ (Chiba et al.,
2001) representing a new type of citizen who works and lives borderless and bordered lives. Yet, their lives show that, despite high incomes and migratory facilities, they were not immune to the allures of ‘home’. Through these examples, we show that it is paradoxical that, in Chile, Zamorano represented and symbolized a new Chileanness and, in Canada, Gretzky is still a symbol of a ‘true’ Canadian. Both have conformed to accepted definitions of transnational citizens living in national and transnational spaces, athletes who navigate the complexity of the social relations at ‘home’ and abroad. These athletes embody transnational cultural and capitalist business practices while willingly serving as national cultural icons for the re-affirmation of national identities. Zamorano emigrated from a small Chilean club to Switzerland in 1989 to play
for modest St Gallen. He was then sold to Sevilla, a Spanish team, finding stardom in powerful Real Madrid, after which Internazionale de Milano then purchased his contract. In early 2001, Bam Bam was hired by América of Mexico. By 2003, like many other migrant Chilean players, he moved back to Chile to play for Colo Colo, retiring soon after. Gretzky first played in the National Hockey League (NHL) with the Edmonton Oilers. In his 21-year career, he played the first ten years in Canada and the last 11 in the United States. Upon retirement he has continued to live in the United States and has his principal residence in Arizona where until recently he was the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL.