Global migration patterns: the rise of dual citizenship among athletes
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk
Those who have watched the recent 2018 World Cup may remember the hand gestures made by two Swiss players, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, after celebrating their goals against Serbia. Both players grew up in Switzerland but are of Albanian-Kosovan heritage, and the gestures have been interpreted as representing an Albanian nationalist symbol and supposedly risked ‘inflaming political tensions in the Balkans among Serbian nationalists and ethnic Albanians’.
In their blog post on the 2018 World Cup, Jelena Dzankic and Lorenzo Piccoli have noted that a total of 220 players had dual nationality (or a claim to it) and could have chosen another team than the one they represented. It reveals how ‘global mobility has affected the ways in which citizenship is understood, lived, and regulated around the world […] Migration flows and evolving citizenship rules have enabled individuals to be at “home” in more than one state’.
It is often assumed that the rapid increase in dual citizenship among athletes is the result of the ‘war’ for highly talented sports people, and the introduction of fast-track admission procedures to recruit the very best. Researchers at Erasmus University Rotterdam, conducting the project Sport and Nation: Migration and Changing Citizenship of Athletes, recently presented a more nuanced picture. They concluded, based on admittedly limited data for the last few decades on athletes who switched nationality and therefore competed for two different countries in the Summer Olympic Games, that only few athletes explicitly receive citizenship via ‘talent-for-citizenship exchanges’ – referred to by the researchers as jus talenti. Rather than indicating the ‘marketization of citizenship’, therefore, ‘the trajectories followed by Olympians who switched nationality show a stark resemblance to global migration patterns, which points towards path dependency […] Our data indicate that European and colonial migrations that have taken place during the first half of the 20th century still resonate in recent transfers of Olympic nationality’. This indicates the occurrence of a mechanism the researchers call ‘reverberative causation’, ‘referring to a process that causes contemporary migration patterns to be the echo or reversal of migration flows by which they were preceded’.