It is often believed that the Olympic Games have become more migratory. The number of Olympic athletes representing countries in which they weren’t born is thought to be on the rise. It should, however, be noted that migration in the context of sports is hardly a new phenomenon. In this paper we hypothesise that, as a reflection of global migration patterns and trends, the number of foreign-born Olympians hasn’t necessarily increased in all countries. Furthermore, it was expected that the direction of Olympic migration has changed and that foreign athletes increasingly come from a more diverse palette of countries. We conducted an analysis of approximately 40,000 participants from 11 countries who participated in the Summer Games between 1948 and 2012. The selected countries have different histories of migration and cover the distinction between ‘nations of immigrants’ (Australia, Canada, United States), ‘countries of immigration’ (France, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden), ‘latecomers to immigration’ (Italy, Spain) and, what we coin, ‘former countries of immigration’ (Argentina, Brazil). We conclude that the Olympic Games indeed have not become inherently more migratory. Rather, the direction of Olympic migration has changed and most teams have become more diverse. Olympic migration is thus primarily a reflection of global migration patterns instead of a discontinuity with the past.

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This study is part of the research project ‘Sport and National Identity: Changing Citizenship and the Global Battle for Talent’. The project is funded by Erasmus University Rotterdam via a Research Excellence Initiative (REI) grant.,
Comparative Migration Studies
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Jansen, J., & Engbersen, G. (2017). Have the Olympic Games become more migratory?. Comparative Migration Studies, 5(11). doi:10.1186/s40878-017-0054-2