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Citizenship without identity? Instrumentalism, nationalism and naturalization in Chinese men's football

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-09-12, 13:55 authored by Peizi Han, Shengying Tang, Alan BairnerAlan Bairner

Representing the nation in sports mega events has become a highly contested issue with the acceleration of the transnational movement of athletes. This research has examined Chinese people's attitudes to the naturalization of football players. The article discusses the findings in the context of the qualifying stages for the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup by presenting and analysing data collected from semi-structured interviews and social media extracts. Two main issues were debated by Chinese people concerning the identity of naturalized athletes. One was the ethnicity of the naturalized footballers in relation to nationality, with some people questioning whether they belong to China and can represent China. The other issue concerned the players’ skills and ability which influenced considerations of how much they could help China to qualify for the World Cup Finals. In relation to Chinese nationalism, national identity and Chinese sports, this study reveals, through the window provided by the presence of these naturalized footballers, how football, instrumentalism, nationalism and naturalization have been inextricably linked and have interacted with one another within the current context. The article analyses how pragmatic values have negotiated with ethno-cultural nationalism and impacted on the Chinese public's attitudes towards naturalized athletes, their image being presented in variable and dynamic ways by football fan netizens after each qualifying game.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

International Review for the Sociology of Sport


SAGE Publications


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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© The Author(s)

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This paper was accepted for publication in the journal International Review for the Sociology of Sport and the definitive published version is available at https://doi.org/10.1177/10126902231199580. Users who receive access to an article through a repository are reminded that the article is protected by copyright and reuse is restricted to non-commercial and no derivative uses. Users may also download and save a local copy of an article accessed in an institutional repository for the user's personal reference. For permission to reuse an article, please follow our Process for Requesting Permission: https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/process-for-requesting-permission

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Prof Alan Bairner. Deposit date: 11 September 2023

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