In Foreign Fields: The Politics and Experiences of Transnational Sport Migration

In Foreign Fields: The Politics and Experiences of Transnational Sport Migration

by Thomas F. Carter


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745330143
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 09/13/2011
Series: Anthropology, Culture and Society Series
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Thomas F. Carter is Senior Lecturer in anthropology at the Chelsea School at the University of Brighton in Eastbourne. He was previously a Research Fellow in the School of Anthropological Studies at Queen’s University of Belfast. He has written extensively on Cuba, sport and politics. His previous books include The Quality of Home Runs: The Passion, Politics and Language of Cuban Baseball (2008).

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Routes and Strategies of Transnational Sport Migration

There is an increasing sense that sport has become global – that it is pervasive in all 'civilized' or 'modern' parts of the world. This sense of sport as a connective force is made evident by the seemingly rational and logical assumption that, naturally, the 'best' athletes will travel to compete against their counterparts. This presumed professional migration is rife with contradictions, obstacles and consternation. Those who work in sport are highly skilled labour migrants yet attention to elites' migration is only beginning to be developed (Amit 2007; Beaverstock et al. 2010; Scott 2006). The very practices and processes of transnational sport migration have only vaguely been acknowledged (Bale and Maguire 1994; Elliot and Maguire 2008a) because: (1) it is not clear where and how transnational sport migration fits in the contentious debates about migration overall, and (2) there has been insufficient investigation into the specific circumstances shaping transnational sport migrations. This book begins to address the latter throughout, while the former is a central concern of this chapter.

Overall, transnational migration has not been fully problematized, in part, because public debates over migration are unavoidably value laden, emotionally evocative and appear interminably irresolvable. Public positions taken about migration implicitly assume direction and intentionality: that migrants are incorporated into the societies to which they move; that migration is a one-way process; and that the host society remains relatively unchanged if incorporation is successful (DeWind and Kasinitz 1997). Although assimilationist positions were delegitimized after the 1960s, those critiques are now coming under equally relevant and critical scrutiny (Alba and Nee 1997). While modified assimilation models have been resurrected, this is not merely rehashing old debates but reflects the apparent return of assimilationist policies in neoliberal democracies (Brubaker 2003; Freeman 2008). These public debates often reflect migration theory within social science in general, but also lurk unnamed in the early attempts to understand transnational sport migration.

Transnational migration does much more than merely reproduce one of the two hegemonic narratives of international migration – one of assimilation or integration and one of resistance – that currently dominate public discourse. Neither narrative fully constitutes or represents migrants' experiences or worldviews precisely because transnational migrants are individuals with their own personal histories of movement and emplacement, histories that do not necessarily correlate with national discourses of identity. Rather, transnational migration points to the emergence of alternative narratives and associated constitutive forms of cultural consciousness. Contemporary migration needs to be analysed from a context in which it is understood as a social process with its own dynamics that can be summed up in three interrelated principles: the importance of migrant agency; the self-sustaining nature of migratory processes; and the trend towards structural dependence of both emigration and immigration countries on continuation of migratory processes once established (Castles 2008). The concept of the transnational: 'calls attention to the cultural and political projects of nation-states as they vie for hegemony in relation with other nation-states, with their citizens and "aliens"' (Kearney 2004: 218). Thus, the formation of transnational migration suggests a capacity to escape the either-or categorization inherent in nationalist discourses. Yet it also calls attention to the cultural and political projects of individuals in relation to nation-states.

To facilitate our understanding of the politics and experiences of transnational sport migrants then, three related concepts, transculturation, mobility and visibility are introduced and permeate the analyses throughout this book. Transculturation, a relatively old yet underutilized concept, is defined by the processes by which the values and meanings of a commodity change when it moves from one locality to another. Both mobility and visibility affect transcultural processes. The manner and degree to which mobility can be produced is a prime concern of all migrants. Mobility is not an inherent personal quality but a highly valued commodity whose production is based on the local material conditions where the potential migrant currently is and where he or she intends to arrive. Those local conditions and the relations between them shape migrants' ability to produce their own mobility. Directly impacting migrants' production of their own mobility is their visibility in both localities. Migrant visibility is informed both by public understandings and awareness of a migrant group's social identities, which are positioned accordingly within local contexts, and the degree to which the individual in question is visible to relevant authorities, sport and state, whose interests help to shape migrants' movements.

Sown throughout In Foreign Fields, all of these concepts facilitate the analyses of the multiple processes by which individuals become transnational sport migrants. To introduce these concepts further, an individual I call Tommy Cartwright relates his own narrative of transnational sport migration. This chapter, then, lays out the case for using a transnational approach for the study of sport-related migrants. Having already discussed the emergence of transnational approaches for understanding social phenomena, the concept of transculturation is reintroduced as a way to analyse the transnational movement of sport-related commodities. Tommy's narrative introduces the various concerns of this chapter and illustrates how an individual's own movements are shaped by and inform broader patterns of transnational sport migration. I then discuss how Tommy's narrative informs the concept of mobility used in this book. Following the discussion centred on Tommy, four more migrants are introduced to illustrate the further complexities of mobility. Without further ado then and in Tommy's own words:

I was born in South Africa. So rugby's about a religion over there. So obviously from an early age, I was exposed to the sport and through the schooling system, you're introduced to it. I emigrated over to Australia at the age of 13 and continued along the development there [sic] through the schools system. Then representative-wise, I was involved with the Institute of Sport in Australia, which was based in Canberra and had a satellite in Brisbane. And that's really a talent identification programme really. Players under the age of 21 are offered the opportunity to train and learn physical preparation with different mental aspects, so you have your rugby skills training and a bit of psychological training, and then through that system I graduated to playing for the Australia sevens side and was fortunate enough to be capped for Australia in '94. And then we toured England with a [provincial] side. We played against a team called Swashbucklers and Mickey Olsen, who was a former [provincial] player, was playing for them. He ... after my return to Australia, I got a call from them saying they were interested in me coming over and joining that team there so ... I made the decision to join Swashbucklers in London and played there for three years where I met a guy called Pauly Jameson who is from Ulster. And he came back to Ulster the year before I finished at Swashbucklers. I was on holidays in Spain and I received an email from Pauly saying, 'We're really looking for an outside centre,' which is my position, 'would you be interested?' So at that stage I was going to return back to Australia but I thought I'd come over and have a look at the set-up and meet the people. I did that and obviously I was very impressed with the people that were involved and the facilities were great. And I thought it would be interesting to spend a year, which is what the contract was at that stage, in Belfast for the life experience more than anything else. So I signed the contract for a year and that expired and I was offered another two-year contract which I then signed, so [I] basically committed myself for another two years. Then due to some conditions that developed, especially in those two years, I decided it was time to move on.

Tommy's narrative not only challenges assimilationist positions regarding migratory experience, it also illustrates an important point: the distinction between migratory places and migratory points. Migratory places and migratory points both have origins and destinations. Places are localities, experienced or imagined, that are a part of the life narrative of a migrant but are not necessarily part of the material life experiences of that individual. There are two kinds of places: those of origin and those of destination. A place of origin is the locality a migrant identifies as the geopolitical location from which one originates – often articulated in terms of nationality, especially ethnic-based nationality. While important, places of origin are not assumed to be the definitive feature in determining where, when and in what manner a migrant will travel. They certainly inform the various routes migrants pursue but one's place of origin only informs migration strategies, it does not determine them.

Migratory points of travel are distinct from migratory places in that points are often multiple and fluid, while places remain relatively constant in migratory movements. The focus on migratory points rather than migratory places demonstrates how important the material conditions of all localities involved affect a migrant's movements. Whether or not a transnational sport migrant can actually travel depends on the local material conditions both at the point of departure and point of arrival. The material conditions in each locality do not exist in isolation but in relation to each other, for it is their relationship that determines the potentiality of movement and strategies deployed to engage in such movements. Tracking the movements of migratory individuals around the world demonstrates the malleability of migrants' movements evident in their multiple points of departure and points of arrival. Points of departure are those localities an individual leaves to travel to a new locale. Points of arrival, then, are those localities where transnational migrants complete a journey. Points of arrival are distinguishable from places of destination.

A place of destination is a migrant's identified goal at the end of all intended travels, which may or may not be the same as one's place of origin. While a migrant's place of origin is likely to remain constant, life circumstances could very well alter the original place of destination. Serendipitous events may intervene, causing a change of tactics, goals and strategies. For others, there may not even be a grand plan. Some transnational migrants' routes comprise seemingly random moves, but these actually form out of personal networks that lead to opportunities to produce mobility. Part of the experience of transnational migration is that the intentionality and planning that goes into such traumatic and dramatic movements around the world may not actually come to fruition and one can arrive somewhere other than one's intended destination. Indeed, a migrant may never reach their place of destination. Neither migratory places nor migratory points, then, are static or even necessarily form part of a 'grand plan'. Initial points and places may be chosen, but often unforeseen circumstances cause reevaluation and reassessment of any existing plans.

Tommy's case illustrates these distinctions. Although born in South Africa, Tommy considers himself Australian; his family (parents and siblings) reside in Australia and his lifelong friends also live there. Thus, his self-identified place of origin is Australia, despite his birth in South Africa. His points of departure, however, are much more complicated. His first point of departure was Australia, but then through a career that entailed three moves – Australia–London, London–Belfast, Belfast–Hong Kong – the point of departure shifted as the trajectory of his career proceeded. Touring with his provincial side led to his exposure to English rugby officials, yet he still could not have migrated without also having been capped as an Australian sevens rugby player, representing the country in an international tournament. It was this confluence of factors that opened the potential for producing his mobility. Similarly, the opportunity at Ulster Rugby was based on a personal connection with a former teammate and directly contravened his thinking at that moment in time. Being on holiday in Spain and intending to return to Australia, the opportunity Ulster afforded was more than simply a chance to continue his playing career. As he acknowledged later in this interview, 'That additional year meant I qualified for residency' – meaning that as a Commonwealth citizen, he could then choose to reside in the UK at some point later in his life at a time of his choosing, rather than having to rely on having established employment prior to any future arrival in the United Kingdom. Indeed, some of Cartwright's motivation for signing with Ulster Rugby was that he would then qualify for a British passport, having lived in the United Kingdom for a minimum of five years with a work permit. In short, extending his stay and his playing career facilitated his future mobility.

When Tommy embarked on his transnational career, he always fully intended to return to Australia once his rugby career finished, which he mostly conceived of as his career as an athlete. Thus, he has had several points of arrival, but his place of destination is Australia, the same locality as his place of origin. Not all migrants intend to or do end up in the same locality at the end of their journeys, however. His last move extended his travels, although not as a player but as a coach. He was switching careers but remaining in rugby and maintaining his transnational mobility. So in this instance, the place of origin and the place of destination ultimately are the same: Australia. Within that mobility, though, are multiple points of arrival and points of departure, for each movement entails both a departure point and arrival point. A person's career can easily contain several moves, as Tommy's demonstrates. Hence, these points may be part of an overall plan or, as the case of Tommy shows, the place of destination may be known but the routes and time one will take to get there remains open. In other cases in this book, a place of destination is never determined.

Tommy's ability to engage in transnational sport migration was directly contingent on the production of a global sport called 'rugby union'. The transformations required for such an entity to come into being were by no means easy, quick or harmonious. Nor are they finished. Rather, rugby union's emergence as a global sport required five decades of acrimonious wrangling and its ongoing maintenance remains contentious. Like so many other innovative commodities, the global sport of rugby was only finally brought about because of an ominous development in Australian rugby that threatened existing rugby authorities' position. That impetus galvanized Australian rugby authorities to push for a World Cup to secure Australian athletes who were in danger of being poached by a new sport spectacle, a rugby 'circus' (Wyatt 1995: 25–26). That potential loss of labour ushered in the impetus to commercialize and commodify the game through the vehicle of a global sport spectacle. Not everyone was in favour of such a move. The Irish authorities, in particular, were against this strategy (Wyatt 1995: 27, 31). The other members of the International Rugby Board (IRB), however, were convinced that the creation of such a global spectacle was a good idea. The changes wrought by the creation of a Rugby World Cup and the commodification of rugby union reshaped international rugby and filtered through all levels of the sport.

The inaugural Rugby World Cup was scheduled for 1987 and, although the spectacles and contests of rugby union had now been commodified, the athletes had not yet been professionalized (commodified). Officially, athletes were not paid, something that many of them had been questioning for some time. While returning from a match in Llanelli, Wales, years earlier, Derek Wyatt (1995: 19) pondered, 'The crowd must have been 12,000 or more; the car park, which had a capacity of perhaps eight hundred cars, was full; the programmes were sold out; the bars were packed. Where was the money going?' Wyatt was in no way alone. The French players threatened to refuse to play against Australia in the 1991 Rugby World Cup quarter-final unless they were paid 7000 francs each (Collins 2008: 14). English players refused to speak to the press unless they were paid an 'appearance fee' that same year during the Five Nations tournament (2008: 14). What finally forced rugby authorities to admit that the athletes were labourers was the growth of rugby league in Britain and Australia, which was professional, and transnational media corporations threatening to set up their own competing spectacles that would rely on the same athletes, but they would be paid. In short, rival employers were proposing to pay athletes better wages. Pushed by the three dominant national rugby unions, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the IRB ushered in the professional era, again because of the threat of labour strife immediately before the 1995 World Cup, with a formal announcement at the pre-1995 World Cup meeting in Paris. With the support of two northern unions, France and Wales, the IRB declared that the sport would turn from amateurism to professionalism, meaning the athletes would now be paid openly. It is through these processes that rugby athletes became fetishized commodities, as their particular version of rugby became a global sport.


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Copyright © 2011 Thomas F. Carter.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Sowing Transnational Fields
1: Routes and Strategies of Transnational Migration
2: Striding Across Fields of Global Sport
3: Tensions of Sovereignty and Citizenship
4: NEOsport and the Production of Transnational Sport Migrants
5: Family Matters: Negotiating the Risks and Costs of Mobility
6: Illegal Motion: Undocumented Migration and the Production of Illegality
Concluding Remarks: Experiencing the Politics of Transnational Migration
Works Cited
Media Sources

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