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25 February 2021

Spain: Football as a tool to end racism


A study by the Social Observatory of La Caixa shows that attitudes towards immigration improve when foreign footballers play well for their teams.

A phenomenon as collaborative as sport should promote values such as tolerance and respect. The results presented in this study suggest that football unintentionally affects public opinion on immigration. When the team itself wins, immigration is perceived in positive terms, especially if the foreign players are essential to the club's success. Improvements in attitudes towards immigration only occur if the sporting performance is positive.

In this sport, globalisation has manifested itself through the free movement of professionals, which has increased substantially over the last twenty-five years. The football market is increasingly exposed to the movement of players between countries or from one continent to another. Usually, the flow of players is in a south-north direction. The main reason for the increase in so-called 'soccer migration' is that limits on the number of foreign players in European leagues have been removed or extended, and clubs have developed a much more entrepreneurial mentality.

According to a 2017 survey by Nielsen Sports, 43% of respondents in thirty countries in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia were interested or very interested in soccer. In Spain, a survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS) revealed that 67.4% of respondents were followers or supporters of a soccer club. This global interest in soccer makes it an excellent area of analysis for understanding complex social phenomena such as immigration, the growth of which in recent decades is a direct consequence of the phenomenon of globalisation, which has also had a profound effect on soccer.

The study also notes that improved perception of immigration is confined to local club level, and does not extend to wider regions. It also finds that perception of immigration is more favourable the more foreign players the teams have, and that their influence increases as they play more minutes in matches.

Another recent study by Alrababa'h et al. (2019) analyses how the presence of the prominent Muslim player Mohamed Salah in Liverpool FC has influenced Islamophobic attitudes and behaviours in the county of Merseyside (where this team is based). The results showed that hate crime towards immigrants there has fallen by 18.9% since Salah started playing for the team. Similarly, the number of anti-Muslim tweets by Liverpool fans has halved (from 7.3% to 3.8%), unlike tweets by fans of other English Premier League clubs. In other words, the survey results in this study also point to a more positive perception of immigration resulting from football.

Read more on this here.


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Posted by
Migration CIDOB
Country Coordinator

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