Christian Ungruhe is a social anthropologist and post-doctoral researcher at the Section for
Sport Science at Aarhus University, Denmark. He received his Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS) at Bayreuth University, Germany. Currently, he is working in the project “Maintaining mobility when visibility ends: Football migration and the role of post-career transitions and trajectories among professional West African football players in Scandinavia and Ghana”. He is interested in topics of migration,
mobility, youth, work and sport in West Africa, particularly Ghana.
Post career precarity. Experiences of former West African footballers in Northern
So far, research on African footballers’ transnational migration has mainly focused on migrant’s pre- and actual careers, e.g. talent’s hopes and expectations and their ways into professional sport abroad, players’ actual experiences of migration or political and economic dynamics on a macro-level. Apart from individual media stories (e.g. about former star players) what happens to retired migrant players and how their careers and migration experience shape and contribute to their life after active sport are some of the unexplored issues concerning transnational athletes’ post-careers.
For professional footballers in general, career endings often involve a lack of alternative occupational opportunities, financial difficulties, a declining social status as well as the loss of their identity as athletes. However, this may count for former African players in Europe in particular since short-term contracts, underpay or not having the possibilities for or interest in obtaining long-term career alternatives have been identified as frequent issues among this group. Hence, transnational African players in Europe are probably more likely to experience precarious livelihoods after career termination than other athletes.
This paper sheds light on how former transnational West African players in Northern Europe prepare and are prepared for their life after professional football abroad and how they deal with its challenges and changes. Focusing on the lived experiences and narratives of players, we use and expand the concept of precarity in order to look at these issues as well as to investigate if and how players actively reproduce precarious conditions themselves. The paper is based on multi-sited ethnographic research and qualitative interviews with West African footballers who have played in Denmark and Sweden between the mid-1990s and 2015.