Important addition to the literature on sport research related to migration and integration

Sepandarmaz Mashreghi
Dept of Sport Sciences, Malmö University

Sine Agergaard
Rethinking Sports and Integration: Developing a Transnational Perspective on Migrants and Descendants in Sports
116 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2018 (Routledge Focus on Sport, Culture and Society)
ISBN 978-1-138-29062-4

Rethinking Sports and Integration, published by Routledge in its “Focus on Sport, Culture and Society” series, delivers a detailed and comprehensive explanation and critique on sports-related integration concepts and policies. Additionally, this book redefines sports-related integration from a transnational perspective, underlining the super-diversity within migrant groups while exploring the transnational connections and their influences on participation in sports in migrant communities. This is the first English publication in a book format that draws together critical cultural studies, migration studies and insights from research in various European countries. Over the span of eight chapters, the author, Sine Agergaard, explores the evolution of sports-related integration policies and problematic understandings in these policies as well as in sports-related initiatives, with the objective of reconceptualizing the “current understanding of sports-related integration as it tends to be expressed in nation states policies and programs”(p. 2).

The structure of the book meshes well with its organization and lends itself successfully to the analysis of different concepts in policies and interventions. Agergaard starts skillfully by defining the word migrant, bringing attention to the multi-layered definition of the word which embodies both leaving a place and arriving at another place. Using this definition, she argues that migrants and their descendants are often seen as individuals or groups arriving at a nation-state, thereby disrupting its harmony, while not much attention is given to the places and spaces the migrants have left. Furthermore, she contends that this narrow perception is mirrored in the political debates, policies and interventions regarding integration, where migrants are directed to ‘integrate into’ the mainstream societies, and their needs for developing belongings and networks in their transnational communities are often overlooked. Agergaard continues with the definition of integration, defining it as a process that brings together and re-creates, and she argues that the current policies regarding sport and integration are often focused on assimilation (making the same) of migrants and their descendants. She also distinguishes between system-integration and social-integration, pointing out that social-integration in sport settings may not necessary lead to employment or citizenship (system-integration).

The author resumes by outlining shortcomings of the current political beliefs in sports-related integration programmes. She underlines the lack of a clear measuring stick for sports-related integration frameworks, i.e. what dimensions of the mainstream society should the migrants adhere to? Is integration into the lower classes included in the overall attempt to integrate migrants and their descendants into society? Such questions are left unanswered by the current policies on sports-related integration. She further maintains that the existing policies are focused on migrants rather than on the interaction between minority and majority groups, and this is especially true for non-western migrant groups. The author also points out that the programmes and policies tend to reinforce a linear understating of what integration is supposed to be, treating both sport and the society as fixed and unchanging entities.

In my opinion, there is only one instance where the author does not fully explicate the issue at hand and where I believe deeper discussions are warranted.

Agergaard continues to offer a shift in understanding of the idea of integration in sports-related guidelines and programmes. She proposes that such programs examine integration as a temporal process that requires a different entry point and strategy at each of its different stages. This processional view also acknowledges that “societies are constantly in the making and diversity and conflict are part of societal organization” (p. 24). She further suggests that integration should be perceived as a relational process and that different groups and institutions in any given society are interdependent on each other through a process that is entwined in power asymmetries. Despite the fact that certain institutions and groups are positioned differently than others within the society, “it is still through social relational processes that sports-related integration programmes are enacted” (p. 24). Furthermore, Agergaard argues that integration is a multi-level process that encompasses various levels of interactions in the society. Integration can occur at micro-levels between the individuals, or meso-levels between groups and institutions, and at a macro-level by various institutions and governing bodies. Lastly, the author proposes that the process of integration has various trajectories, velocities and outcomes that are not always predictable; for example, an asylum seeker may integrate socially quite well within a sports club but his or her application may be eventually rejected by the governing bodies. Through this reorganization of the notion of integration in sports-related policies, it is possible to develop a more extensive comprehension of the components involved in this complex and multi-layered process as well as gaining understanding of diversity in migrants’ attitudes to their bodies, sport, and health.

As a sports researcher who is investigating the role of academia in reproduction of stereotypes pertaining to migrants, I found this book stimulating. It was especially interesting to discover that Agergaard’s critique of sports-related integration policies and programmes closely mirrored the criticism that has been directed towards academic research pertaining to sport and physical activity within migrants’ and their descendants’ lives, and thereby highlighting the link and discursive power of these institutions. In my opinion, there is only one instance where the author does not fully explicate the issue at hand and where I believe deeper discussions are warranted. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, Agergaard problematizes the subsumed assimilatory understandings of the current integration policies by pointing out that integration defines a ‘re-creation’; however, she does not address this in her analysis of the policies and programmes. For example, if sports-related integration policies and initiatives are meant to re-create new social environments, should there not be integrative programmes specially designed for members of the majority groups? As Agergaard states, one of the shortcomings of these policies is their limited focus on the migrant groups, and therefore, discussing this question is advantageous and necessary in the analysis and reconceptualization of the notion of integration and sport.

Rethinking Sport and Integrationis an important addition to the literature on sport research related to migration and integration. Agergaard draws extensively from various perspectives and case studies, as well as from adjacent fields such as race, ethnicity, sports and migration studies to support her contentions. She further presents a solid conceptual and theoretically informed framework to re-examine the issues pertaining to policies and initiatives that are established to promote integration through and in sport. The discussions and theoretical frameworks introduced in this book add to the otherwise scarce literature in sports policy and development, and open the floor for further studies and discussions in order to advance the research on various group interactions in diverse sporting contexts.

Copyright © Sepandarmaz Mashreghi 2019

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