The case of talented ethnic minority players in Danish football clubs
Increased public funding, more governmental involvement and an emphasis on the instrumental values of physical activities have in general become characteristic of Western nations’ policies towards sport. Denmark is, however, a little different in that there is still little political intervention in sport, although sports clubs do get economic support and are seen as having the potential to solve crucial social issues. The purpose of this article is to analyse and discuss the ways in which the political assumption that sport can enhance social integration is reflected in the practical governance of integration issues in particular in sports clubs. The article is based on a local field study in which we interviewed 10 talented football players with ethnic minority backgrounds and eight coaches and club leaders from six different football clubs. Distinguishing between integration and assimilation, the analysis shows that coaches (and the Danish football governing bodies) employ a strategy of integration towards ethnic minority players’ different preferences for food and clothing. However, in the daily practice of football the clubs have an implicit strategy of assimilation. The coaches attempt to treat everyone the same (no matter the ethnicity and background of the players). Inspired by anthropological studies this is analysed as a common way to downplay differences between the members of a society (or in this case a football team and club) and to enhance instead an ‘imagined sameness’ that is central to the national self-understanding in Nordic countries. This leads us to discuss a possible change of strategy for elite sports clubs to develop explicit policies for their work with ethnic minorities.
International Journal of Sport Policy, 2010, Vol 2, Issue 2, p. 205-221