Nationality swapping in sports is commonly assumed to be a rapidly expanding practice that is indicative of the marketization of citizenship. Sports are said to have become wholesale markets in which talent is being traded for citizenship. In this article, we seek to empirically explore such claims by analysing 167 athletes who have competed for two different countries in the Summer Olympic Games. It seems that most switches occurred after the 1990s. Then, following a citizenship as a claims-making approach, we introduce the work of Bourdieu so as to connect citizenship as both legal status and practice with normative claims. The analysis reveals that the practice of nationality switching is shaped by structural conditions of the Olympic field. First, a complex realm of citizenship laws and regulations produces conditions under which athletes make legitimate claims to citizenship. Second, through a mechanism of reverberative causation, prior migrations are often echoed in contemporary nationality swapping. Only a limited number of athletes acquired citizenship via the explicit market principle we call jus talenti. Claiming that instrumental nationality swapping is indicative of the marketization of citizenship obscures the complex interplay between structures of and practices within the Olympic field.

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Citizenship Studies
Department of Sociology

Jansen, J. (Joost), Oonk, G., & Engbersen, G. (2018). Nationality swapping in the Olympic field: towards the marketization of citizenship?. Citizenship Studies, 22(5), 523–539. doi:10.1080/13621025.2018.1477921