September 2021

Last modified: 29.04.2020




Outline of topic:

Today sport is a significant social arena through which we can study the evolution of societal diversity, along with the challenges that follow suit. When Steven Vertovec (2007), coined the concept ‘Superdiversity’, he pointed out that migrants do not only diverge from one another in terms of their countries of origin, channels of migration and status (e.g., as legal or illegal migrant), but also in their settlement experiences and the variety of responses they encounter by local residents and national authorities.

This special issue proposal turns attention to such diversity in the role sports may play in the lives of migrants and their descendants and in how they are are received and experience life in their county of settlement. In particular, it focuses on how migrants negotiate political strategies as well as civic responses that shape options for their sports participation. As pointed out by migration scholars the current differentiation in migration is accompanied by a growing politicization of migration (Castles, Hass & Millar 2014). Such sentiment also involves growing scepticism towards minority ethnic groups’ participation in sports (Lenneis & Agergaard 2018).

In the current context, it is more relevant than ever to include attention to the diversity in the field considering both ‘sport in migration’; the role of sport for minority ethnic and diaspora groups, as well as ‘sport as migration’; studying how sport may serve as a channel of migration for aspring professional athletes. There is a need of further developing theoretical concepts that can account for such diversity in how sport is linked with migration (Klein 2010, Darby 2013). A variety of perspectives such as process sociology, glocalization theory, and the global value chain model have already been used in studying mainly ‘sport as migration’ issues (see e.g., Maguire & Falcous 2011). Yet, the current context calls for a use of theoretical models that also encompass critical perspectives such as postcolonial theory and critical race theory (see e.g. Besnier 2015, Hylton 2010).

Also, methodologically we call for research in sports and migration issues to take up novel designs for this field such as participatory action research conducted together with migrants and their receiving communities (see e.g., Meir & Fletcher 2017). Furthermore, we need research designs that better cover the transnational nature of sports and physical culture and, in doing so, contribute to breaking down the tendencies towards methodological nationalism in studies of migration (Wimmer & Schiller 2003).

Thus we invite submission from the diverse field of research in sport and migration issues with particular interest in:

  • Empirical papers that describe the increasing diversity of sports and migration issues
  • Literature reviews that map the theoretical and methodological perspectives applied in existing studies, while pointing to options for innovation of the field
  • Theoretical papers that make use of conceptual frameworks and models that are novel (and relevant) to the field of research
  • Papers that contributes to methodological innovation through use of techniques such as participatory designs in which specific groups of migrants and local stakeholders are involved in developing, implementing and evaluating research projects.

Time plan

Please send a 250 word abstract to no later than 1. November 2021.

Upon seletion, full papers should be submitted 1. April 2022



Besnier, N. (2015). Sports Mobilities Across Borders: Postcolonial Perspectives. International Journal of the History of Sport 32(7): 849-861.

Castles, S., de Haas, H., & Miller, M. J. (2014). The age of migration: International population movements in the modern world (5th ed.). Guilford Press.

Darby, P. (2013). Moving players, traversing perspectives: Global value chains, production networks and Ghanaian football labour migration, Geoforum 50: 43-53.

Hylton, K. (2010). How a turn to critical race theory can contribute to our understanding of ‘race’, racism and anti-racism in sport. International Review for the Sociology of Sport 45(3): 335-354.

Klein, A. (2010). Sports labour migration as a global value chain. The Dominican case. In: Maguire, J. & Falcous, M. (eds.). Sport and migration. Borders, boundaries and challenges. London: Routledge, p. 88-101.

Lenneis, V., & Agergaard, S. (2018). Enacting and resisting the politics of belonging through leisure. The debate about gender-segregated swimming sessions targeting Muslim women in Denmark. Leisure Studies 37(6), 706-720.

Maguire, J., & Falcous, M. eds. (2011). Sport and migration. Borders, boundaries and crossings. London: Routledge.

Meir, D. & Fletcher, T. (2017). The transformative potenail of using participatory community sport initiatives to promote social cohesion in divided community contexts. International Review for the Sociology of Sport 54(2): 218-238.

Vertovec, S. (2007). Super-diversity and its implications, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(6): 1024-1054.

Wimmer, A., & Schiller, N. (2003). Methodological Nationalism, the Social Sciences, and the Study of Migration: An Essay in Historical Epistemology. The International Migration Review, 37(3), 576-610.


New book 

African football migration: Aspirations, experiences and trajectories


Written by Paul Darby, James Esson and Christian Ungruhe

A new book on African football migration written by three members of the network, Paul Darby, James Esson and Christian Ungruhe, will be published by Manchester University Press in January 2022. African football migration: Aspirations, experiences and trajectories draws on ethnographic research conducted over a decade to unpack and offer fresh perspectives on the aspirations and e

xperiences of youth and young men in post-colonial Africa as they seek to forge a successful career overseas. The book illustrates that beyond a fortunate few, the vast majority of those striving to improve their life chances through football migration experience involuntary immobility. It also reveals that many of those who are able to 'go outside' encounter truncated careers at the margins of the football industry, mainly in Europe but increasingly in South-East Asia, followed by precarious post-playing career lives.



By Alan Klein

Each of us has a tale of how we came to study sport migration and sharing them, at the very least, might help foster connections between us. My work has looked at responses from the Global South to the incursions of the North, with much of it focusing on athletes’ efforts to use sport to better life for their families and themselves. 

                      My initial foray into sport migration began in 1987 when I went to the Dominican Republic (DR) to examine how baseball players were found, developed, and sent to play in North America. Almost no attention had been paid to the sporting connection between the developed and underdeveloped world and using Dependency Theory was helpful in looking at the ways in which North American teams sought to continue to extract resources cheaply in the "periphery."  The end game for Dominicans had always been to play Major League Baseball where one could compete against the best and climb out of poverty, but they entered a system that they didn't understand, and which exploited them.  I also drew heavily on the work of James Scott's in cultural resistance, so I always looked for peoples' refusal to capitulate to multinational corporate sports franchises trying to reproduce the neocolonial model. The ethnographic component of my work yielded insights into the difficulties that players had coming to North America, many times contributing to their failure to move up the ladder. Sugarball: The Dominican Dream, The American Game (1991) was the outcome of that work.

                      Following two more studies on globalization and baseball, I returned to the DR almost two decades later to assess what had become a much stronger Dominican response to Major League Baseball. By then Dominicans accounted for 10% of all major league players and almost 40% of all professionally signed players.  Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice came out in 2010. It used a political-economy model built around the, then, trendy idea of global commodity chains. I did mini-ethnographies at every major node of the chain. Dominican or Venezuelan major league players had to successfully pass through all seven rungs of this commodity chain.

                      By 2010, major league teams had built a sophisticated academy system in the DR: a complete and separate institutional setting that took over every aspect of a player's life. They were housed, fed, and educated. They were trained in baseball, as well as taught cultural skills to succeed in that team's North American system. Today, the cost of manufacturing a Latin American player has escalated so that major league teams spend millions of dollars on signing players, and then more millions to build state of the art facilities to develop their players. This marks a meteoric rise in the investment of North American teams into this developing nation and a shift in the political and economic calculus of North-South relations. 

                      The intense competition among teams to sign talent to professional contracts also resulted in a dramatic escalation of signing bonuses to 17-year-old rookies, many getting more than one million dollars. Much of the credit for this  goes to "Busconés," Dominican scouts and trainers who monopolized all young players. They care for and train 12–14-year-old boys until they become 17 years of age and can be sold to the teams. So, by 2010 the base of the chain was completely controlled by buscónes, a situation that threatened Major League baseball's neocolonial system.  I sketched out the commodity chain that was involved beginning with unsigned, completely untrained 12- and 13-year-olds (Level 1), who if they have promise get signed by buscónes (Level 2).  If they progress, the player gets sold to major league teams (level 3) who develope them at the academies for up to two years. When deemed ready to travel to the US and enter the lowest rungs of the minor leagues and seek to play their way up through Levels 4-6 (A-Ball, AA-Ball, AAA-ball). Only a handful of the thousands who enter this chain make it to play at the major league (Level 7).

                      Because I was doing ethnographic multi-sited fieldwork I observed and followed players as they moved up, as well as when they were ultimately released.  One of my most important findings regarding sport migration was that released players had been wrongly considered 'failures' because they didn't get to the top. In this sport, during their odyssey many learned valuable cultural skills (e.g., English, working how Western enterprises work) and had earned more money through the game than their family could earn in a lifetime. I observed and interviewed many former players who opened businesses that catered to the needs of the 30 academies in their homeland. Others would be hired by the academies because they'd already been through the process and could teach younger players more effectively. And most had provided a better life for their families than if they had stayed in the country all along. Being eliminated from the player chain likely would result in re-entering it in another viable capacity.  A second major finding, one I don't have the space to elaborate on, was that Dominicans had become formidable opponents of Major League Baseball and were gaining control over their players and the relationship with MLB.

                      In my view, the major obstacle to developing a synergy between sports scholars looking at migration has been the relative lack of interest that we have in sports that are not part of our national sport pantheon (e.g., American exceptionalism, Eurocentric views on sport). To that end, Paul Darby and I traveled together to visit our respective fieldwork sites in Africa and the Dominican Republic becoming aware of the value of collaborative and comparative work that might be done. The SpoMi Spotlight is a first step in initiating awareness of the work of network members.