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"Globalization, Sports and the Precarity of Masculinity"

Final Report Summary - GLOBALSPORT (Globalization, Sports and the Precarity of Masculinity)

The sport industries have emerged in the last few decades as an increasingly visible presence on the global scene, for the massive resources that they control; the enormous audiences they can mobilize; their ability to bestow upon some nation-states a world notoriety that they could not otherwise hope for; and the transformative power they can have on the lives of successful athletes. One effect of these industries that have been less well-understood to date is their effect on the lives of ordinary people in economically destitute countries of the Global South, where numerous young men, exposed to images of spectacular athletic success, particularly on satellite television, dream of regaining a productive adulthood of which precarity has robbed them through a career in sport. In most sports, however, earning money in sport requires moving to the Global North, an endeavor that is strewn with obstacles, as border crossing, for all but the most privileged, has become increasingly criminalized. The possibility of athletic success and its millenarian promises of wealth and fame has redefined the meaning of work, masculinity, and future for many young men in the Global South, yet this possibility contrasts jarringly with its probability.

The GLOBALSPORT project examined these dynamics in five sports, namely rugby union, soccer football, cricket, marathon running, and Senegalese wrestling, and in a wide array of sending and receiving countries of athletic migrations, including New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Tonga, Argentina, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Senegal, Cameroon, Kenya, Bangladesh, Japan, France, Italy, Poland, and Slovakia. Guest scholars who came to spend periods of time among project participants brought insights from additional fieldwork in Brazil, India, and Ghana. The researchers all adopted ethnographic methods for their work, which involved long-term fieldwork in the various countries and an intimate engagement with young men who orient their lives to a sport career. Most of these hoped-for careers involve migrating to a country of the Global North, although in some cases, such as that of wrestling in Senegal, athletes can only attain fame in the local context, given that the sport is exclusively local, while in other cases, such as the migration of cricket athletes from Guyana to Trinidad, the migration takes place within the Global South. These cases have added an attractive comparative dimension to the project.

The migrant sport careers that so many young men dream of have a major impact on their lives, their kindred’s lives, and their home societies. Often, young hopefuls abandon formal education to pursue their dreams, particularly where economic downturn and neoliberal restructuring have radically undermined employment opportunities for the educated. Those who succeed will be deluged with requests for remittances from relatives they previously did not even know existed. When their career ends after a brief few years, even the most celebrated will suddenly be looked down upon as pitiful in their island country, or will stay in the last host country, surviving as security guard or nightclub bouncer. Spouses who follow them, who might have been professionals in their home country, have to make do in the host countries with employment as domestic workers or beauticians, and children become increasingly disconnected from island cultures, despite the great importance placed on intergenerational continuity.

Migrating to a sport career in many countries of the Global South is widely seen as an alternative to joining the desperate masses crowded on precarious vessels attempting to cross the Mediterranean and eking a precarious living as undocumented migrants in the Global North. In reality, however, dream of migrant sport careers often lead to the same conditions, and create additional entanglements, as they redefine the meaning of work and its relationship to gender; conflate the future with exile; and reshape bodies and minds for ephemeral, elusive, and unpredictable careers in frequently hostile racialized contexts.

As an exploration of the power of global sport industries in reconfiguring social relations, the value of success, and the meaning of the future, he project has demonstrated how precarity, globalization, and neoliberalism are intertwined in the contemporary world, and the effects that this intertwining has on the lives of agents.