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Thursday, June 2, 2016

"World in Motion: The Morality of Changing National Identity in International Sport" by Rowan Tibbs

by Rowan Tibbs for World Football Commentaries

Vicente Del Bosque, manager of Spain on the Chelsea FC striker, Diego Costa:
"I'm not going to hide the fact that he is  a special case. He has never played for us before, and he was born in Brazil." --- Source: Marca, 28 February 2014

Editor's Note:

Rowan was kind enough to provide a synopsis of his dissertation, "World in Motion: The Morality of Changing National Identity in International Sport". I am very pleased to have this important topic discussed in such detail. Please enjoy this excellent synopsis.

The paper adopted a case study approach to the analysis of the ideas surrounding

temporary identity in sport, with the focus on German National Football team and

Middle East Sport. Analysis of the research into global migration found that human

phenomena provide the greatest reason behind migration, for example social

problems, along with a global consumer culture investing in sport. This investment

has led to wealthy sectors of sport being able to offer athletes financial reward in

order for them to change citizenship and compete on an international platform.

The significance in these findings is they provide a possible vision into the future

of international sport being manipulated by wealthy nations. Teams may consist of

athletes from contrasting cultures and ethnicities competing under the same flag

as a consequence of their personal desire for monetary gain and the host country’s

wish for global recognition in sport.

The idea of nationality forms a platform for research into the growing trend of dual

nationality sportspeople and the morality of their decision to choose or defer one

nationality in favour of another. Schiller, Basch et al (1992) argued that immigration

has been replaced by transnationalism where people establish communities crossing

borders rather than direct movement to a particular place and adopting hybrid

cultures, creating the notion of temporary identity as they are connected between

two more countries and ultimately one will benefit over another. Four main areas

were identified as having influence this theory of identity:

1) Political Identity - Displacement and voluntary movement of people across

borders establishing ethnic communities in new countries.

2) Economic Impact - Sport is an economic vehicle which embroils society and

distorts sporting integrity with promises of personal material gain from wealthier


3) Social Change and Globalisation - To what extent does sport migration benefit the

new host country and society.

4) Talent Identification and Identity - Stereotypical assumptions on sporting talent

led to “wealthier” countries creating lucrative deals to entice athletes to defer their


Case Study 1: Modern German National Football

The growing status of a unified Germany in international football prompted the

research as the team contains numerous players who were not born in Germany,

creating an argument between the modern multicultural society and conservative

caution over migration (Kauff et al 2013). A practical example to justify the research

is of the national German team selection of players against France on February

6th, 2013 which contained six players out of the nineteen man squad who were

born outside of Germany or had at least one non-German parent (DFB 2013).

This example creates an interesting focus on international competition as the six players

in the squad could play for another country, meaning that German national football

may have benefited where another country has lost out on sporting talent.

Photo credit: AndhikaMPPP.
of Arsenal and the German national team.

Germany is not an isolated example in global football as an increasing number

of nations are starting to accommodate players of mixed parentage or differing

birth country, such as Switzerland. German citizenship reform in 2000 created new

guidelines which allows for naturalisation of people who have lived in Germany for

a period of time and the gaining of citizenship through birth for second generation

migrant families, alongside children having until their twenty third birthday to decide

on absolute citizenship, whether they want to become German or their paternal

country citizen (Winter & John 2010). The concept of “Jus Sanguinis” allows for the

acquisition of German citizenship if one parent is of German descent, irrespective of

birthplace (Brubaker 1992), which is the main point of controversy as footballers can

then decide on playing for the German national team or their birth country.

The paper has focussed on international sport as domestic competitions do not

raise the same questions surrounding nationalism as German football exemplifies

Dyreson’s (2003) theory of globalisation fuelling modern international sport as a

diversity of national interests. The footballers playing for Germany have decided

to compete for their adoptive country to increase their own chances of success

rather than in exchange for material goods. Yet even though they are not receiving

immediate wealth the athletes have a greater opportunity to earn success leading to

a long term personal gain through winning competitions, resulting in being involved

with top domestic teams.

Case Study 2: Middle East Sport -A Transferable Case Study

Spain National Team photo SpainNationalTeam.jpg
Photo credit: AndhikaMPPP.

A contemporary issue surrounding nationalism is the issues concerning Middle

Eastern countries offering money to young, talented athletes, predominantly from

East Africa to compete internationally. Economic strength in the Gulf states has

created opportunities for sport to develop as a powerful tool for both governments

and private investors, affecting domestic and international teams, yet due to a lack

of previous sport facilities and structure, the modern investment is used to buy

foreign athletes rather than develop home grown sportspeople.

This issue is problematic as developing countries are investing in sport but wealthier

neighbour countries harvest the sports talent, for example Kenyan athlete’s being

lured to compete for a nearby Arab country as they are promised economic benefits

(Thibault 2009), causing a cycle of migration which deskills the nation’s sports

system (Bale & Maguire 2004) despite the athlete’s personal benefits. The problem

has given rise to an important question about personal wealth and economic

security against potential representation at international level yet less financial gain

i.e. Wealth vs. Nationalism.

The argument surrounding national identity and the questions behind changing

nationality in the Middle East region can be seen as the most direct affect to sport

identification, development and competitions as a growing capitalist view on sports

people as products rather than professional athlete’s harms less affluent countries

complete sporting structure. Woodward (2007) argues that in society we live in a

period of increased ‘identity politics’, exemplified by the issues outlined in Middle

Eastern sport as migrate athletes leave their birth country to compete nationally

for another.

The aim for athletes should be to gain international recognition but if

they have the choice between wealth and patriotic pride then sports people from

developing countries are more likely to decide to change nationality for economic

wealth alongside international competition, creating an identity crisis (Falcous & Silk


Although not explicitly about football, the points raised are transferable across from

general sport to football. This is due to the high demand for elite athletes by Royal

and governmental hierarchy in the Arab States and with Qatar’s high profile 2022

World Cup controversy, the level of investment in overseas stars can be expected to


The paper concludes that there is an ever growing unethical pattern of athletic

migration at an international level. Coupled with this are immoral decisions

to change national identity which will have a negative impact on the future of

international sport. This may result in an elite group of wealthy nations competing

against one another with teams of athletes who have chosen personal capital gain

over the ethos of sport.


Bale, J., & Maguire, J. (2004). An agenda for research on sports labour migration. In (Eds.) Bale, J & Maguire, J. The global sports arena: Athletic talent migration in an interdependent world. London: Frank Cass.

Deutscher Futball Bund- DFB. (2013). Last accessed 11th February 2013.

Dyreson, M. (2003). ‘Globalising the nation-making process: Modern sport in world history’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 20. Pp. 91-106.

Falcous, M., & Silk, M. (2006). Global regimes, local agendas: Sport, resistance and mediation of dissent, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 41, 3-4. Pp. 317-338.

Kauff, M., Asbrock, F., Thorner, S., & Wagner, U. (2013). Side Effects of Multiculturalism: The Interaction Effect of a Multicultural Ideology and Authoritarianism on Prejudice and Diversity Beliefs, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin XX(X). London: SAGE Journals. First Published online 23/1/13.

Schiller N., Basch., L & Blanc-Szanton, C. (1992).‘Transnationalism: A New Analytic Framework for Understanding Migration’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 645. Pp.1–24.

Thibault, L. (2009). Globalisation of Sport: An Inconvenient Truth In Journal of Sport Management, Issue 23. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics. Pp.7.

Woodward, K. (2007). Identity and Difference. London: SAGE.

Winter, E. & John K. (2010). A New Approach to Citizenship and Integration: Some Facts about Recent Policy Changes in Germany. Ottawa: Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue Publication.

About the Author

Rowan Tibbs is a Bsc (Hons) Sports Coaching & Physical Education graduate who

studied at Oxford Brookes University. His interest in sport has led to a pathway

specialising in sociology with regards to how human phenomena can affect global

sport and physical education in schools. He is currently training to become a primary

school teacher, where he can apply his knowledge in improving the provision of

physical education for children.

He has also authored a research paper investigating power and knowledge in sport:
You may view more of Rowan's research at his blog and can follow him @RowanTibbs on Twitter.

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and published The Soccer Translator from 2008 to 2015. 


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