As in many parts of West Africa, almost all young men in Cameroon who trains in football are determined to move out of the country and launch an international career. They see playing football as an opportunity to prove themselves as successful men: to be mobile, earn sizeable incomes, become superstars and household names, be disciplined and “straight”, be good Christians and preach the gospel, alleviate their families from poverty, and serve as examples for younger generations.
At the same time, these expectations can be extremely high. Besides entering the highly competitive and precarious field of professional football, the players often feel enormous pressure to take care of their parents, siblings and relatives. Between their eagerness to migrate out of the country and the pressure to provide for their extended households, the young men are often left in the hands of their profit-seeking agents and managers, who simultaneously treat them as children in need of fatherly protection, and a commodity whose market value is under constant negotiation.
My project focuses on young men from the South-West region of Cameroon. Through fieldwork in football clubs for young men and sport schools for boys, I am investigating how hopes and dreams of places afar intersect with precarity, masculinity, and spirituality. I am also conducting fieldwork with their parents, siblings and relatives they “leave behind”, practicing an “ethnography of absence”, in order to investigate the flip side of global flows. I am following the young men in their ventures abroad, either through physical space with an airplane, or through virtual space with Facebook and Skype, in order to investigate transnational mobility. Finally, I am interviewing football agents, managers and coaches, investigating how monetary value is ascribed to athletic bodies that have the potential to bring profit.
Uroš Kovač originally worked as an investigative journalist in his native Belgrade, Serbia. His MSc research at Utrecht University was an ethnography of the post-war reconciliation process in Sierra Leone.