Call for Papers | “The Transnational Athlete”, Special Issue of International Journal of the History of Sport. Call ends December 12, 2022

In our contemporary age of globalization, indicative of mass labour migration, an interconnected communications framework, and myriad social movements, the movement of bodies in the sporting world need also be considered. One of the most visibly high-profile sectors reflecting processes of globalization, the modern sports industry is ripe for historical investigation. There have been a number of important works focused on globalization, migration, and identity politics in sport (Bale & Maguire, 1994; Carter, 2011; Maguire, 1999; Maguire & Falcous, 2011), which has been bolstered by recent studies on “flexible citizenship” (Ong, 1999) in international sport spheres (Fabian, 2020; Holmes & Storey, 2011; Horowitz & McDaniel, 2015; Jansen & Engbersen, 2017; Jansen et al., 2018; Shachar, 2011; Spiro, 2014; van Campenhout et al., 2018, 2019). This project seeks to expand on the notion of migrant athletes who are constructed as flexible citizens – also referred to as citizens of convenience, “Olympic mercenaries,” or citizen hoppers. Seeking lucrative opportunities abroad, the sportsperson is on the move in the contemporary sports industry, resulting in contested terrain outside the field of play.

For the past century, a Global South “brawn drain” (Bale, 1991) has been in effect, whereby athletes from the developing world are recruited by developed nations to represent the “imagined community” (Anderson, 1983) in the amphitheatre of international sporting competitions, most notably at the hallowed Olympic Games. Recently, as exemplified by the soft power sporting policies of Qatar, Bahrain, and Turkey (Reiche & Tinaz, 2019), non-Western nations are also exploiting the spoils of unrecruited athletic talent. The consequence of this free-market ethos is that, like in professional sport, the sanctity of world or Olympic glory is decided by the highest bidder. In the words of sport policy scholar Lucie Thibault, “citizenship and affiliation are, it appears, easily exchanged for the right sport skills and abilities” (2009, p. 7). By switching allegiances in the pursuit of sporting opportunities, however, the “mercenary athlete” distorts the notions of citizenship, nationhood, and the nation itself.

To these ends, the aims of this project are twofold: (1) to understand the consequences of citizenship hopping on broader citizenship rights; and (2) to situate the transnational athlete in the contested terrain of global labour migration. Historical case studies of the targeted responses by nations to the transnational athlete will allow for a deeper understanding of the narrative power of sport to dictate broader social movements for self-determination, national identity, and citizenship rights. Focusing on sport history, this project will provide a new perspective on the construction of imagined communities through flexible citizenship.


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