The FIFA World Cup in Qatar has already been hit by controversy around human rights and the treatment of migrant workers in the host country. As fans around the world board planes to go to the tournament (and then return home), it’s worth paying attention to how football and migration are intertwined.
Football is a global game, and migration is very much part of it. According to a recent report from the International Centre for Sports Studies in Switzerland, nearly a quarter of professional footballers (around 14,000) are expatriates, moving thousands of miles from home to play for a team in a different country.
This World Cup is taking place against a backdrop of heightened tensions over immigration to Europe. Migration on boats from the Middle East and North Africa region has been a high profile part of this. More than 800,000 people have reached the Italian coasts on small boats since 2014. The extremely dangerous journey is a desperate attempt to reach Europe in the hope of achieving safety and a better life. And many making the trip think that the better life they seek can be achieved through football.
I have been researching the meaning of football in the lives of boat migrants, no in Sicily. Through months of field observation and interviews with 29 refugees between the ages of 18 and 30, I’ve learned that success as a footballer is what I’ve termed a “possible dream”. It is an unlikely goal, but it can give people purpose and something to hope for, even as they navigate difficult situations. As one participant told me:
“We come here in the same way but we all have different problems. Those who still have family in Africa like me, take care of them. You can play football but you have to have a job. You can look for your opportunity in football, of course, but you need a job.”
During the World Cup, Loughborough University will be hosting an exhibition on campus that brings together football-related research. The Fine Art gallery space will be transformed into a unique indoor pitch that features artwork, video projection and games. For more information see the press release HERE.
Image provided by Getty.