Introduction: borders, boundaries and crossings – sport, migration and identities
While Norbert Elias was writing about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his moves around the various courts of Europe, his insights into the conflicts, tensions and costs associated with Mozart’s career – his personal creativity and the tastes of the societies that sought to control it – are also applicable to the study of the highly skilled of today, including sport migrants. This area of research has received some attention over the past two decades or so. Since the 1994 publication of The Global Sports Arena: Athletic Talent Migration in an Interdependent World edited by John Bale and Joseph Maguire research into sports labour migration has developed along several lines. These include, first, which sports are most involved, why have they been so affected and what structural or cultural changes have thus occurred in those sports and in the societies in which they are located?; second, what are the patterns of global movement and how and why have they developed in this manner?; third, what has been the impact of and on fans in their own migration as ‘tourists’ or as part of a diaspora, and their perception of the sports they consume? fourth, what has been the impact on ‘host’ and ‘donor’ countries more broadly?; fifth, why do ‘professional’ athletes become labour migrants, how is this process contoured and shaped and what do they experience along their journey? sixth, in what ways does such migration reflect the movement of highly skilled workers more generally? and seventh, what implications are there for sport policy and for the domestic and foreign policies of nation-states more broadly? Building on these research trends it is also possible to focus on migration to ask
questions about the impact of global sport more broadly. That is, does sport extend some degree of emotional identification between members of different
societies and civilizations – whether as migrants or the consumers of migrant labour? With the flow of athletic talent across the globe and with the holding of world-wide contests played out in front of people from different nations, and watched by billions via the media sport complex, has an array of more cosmopolitan emotions developed within and between the peoples of different nations? Or, conversely, have globalization processes been accompanied by a more powerful decivilizing counter thrust, in which groups, within and between societies and civilizations, have reacted aggressively to the encroachment of foreign people, values and cultural products? Despite the research so far conducted, firm conclusions regarding these issues are yet to be reached. The themes identified do not exhaust the possible areas of enquiry. Research
of this kind has attracted the attention of economists, geographers, historians, sociologists and political scientists. Each draws upon their disciplinary expertise, utilizing a range of concepts and informed by a variety of approaches. In some senses, the collection of papers contained in The Global Sports Arena reflected this diversity. Given that it is over 15 years since it was published it is timely both to reflect on the book and offer an overview of how the field developed, what recent work there is and what new lines of enquiry are emerging. That, at least, lies behind the selection of papers in this collection. Let us first consider how the original collection viewed migration and how it has been received. Reviewing The Global Sports Arena Matthew Taylor, a historian, noted, in a paper
examining the association of football, migration and globalization since the 1930s, that ‘Footballers, then, are not “on the move” as Bale and Maguire suggested: they have in fact always been moving’ (Taylor, 2006, p. 13). This is misleading. These words are part of Bale and Maguire’s opening sentence. Bale and Maguire argued that ‘Athletes are on the move’ (Bale and Maguire, 1994, p. 1) and went on to note that ‘in some ways…these migration patterns are nothing new. It appears, however, that the process is speeding up’ (Bale and Maguire, 1994, p. 5). Far from being insensitive to the need for examining ‘patterns of flow over time’ (Taylor, 2006, p. 9) what Bale and Maguire (1994, pp. 5-6) argued is worthy of quoting at some length:
Sports labour migration is arguably gathering momentum and appears to be closely interwoven with the broader process of global sports development taking place in the late twentieth century. In turn, this sports development is interwoven with a process of accelerated globalization which has been unfolding at least since the late nineteenth century…Several aspects of sports development highlight the interconnections between this migration and globalization. The last century and a half has, for example, witnessed the emergence and diffusion of sport, the establishment of international sport organizations, the global standardization of rules governing sports, the growth of competition among individuals and club teams from different countries and among the national sides of such countries and the establishment of global competitions such as the Olympic Games, soccer’s World Cup tournament and the athletics world championships.