Against the background of the recent European ‘refugee crisis’ and its long-term consequences, this article investigates the research question ‘how do footballers with a refugee background experience the process of accessing top-level football?’, using ethnographic material and interviews with competitive footballers with a refugee background in Italy and Germany from two studies. The material was examined using qualitative content analysis and interpreted through the ecological systems theory. The results show that inclusion to professional football is complex for refugee footballers who are faced with the additional hurdles and consequences of a forced migration. Moreover, refugees build their networks within the process of resettlement, without a clear path for inclusion to elite football. Those who ‘make it’ have relied on key enablers within their microsystem and on mesosystemic interactions, further emphasizing the importance of networks for professional development. In contrast, exosystemic and macrosystemic factors further hinder the possibility of a sport career in football, on top of the existing difficulties of a forced migration. The process of seeking inclusion in competitive football however has been identified as a positive element that can provide direction in resettlement and opportunities for socialisation.
Keywords: football, refugee, sport careers, ecological systems theory, forced migration