Spaces of football and belonging in Italy: people seeking asylum’s resistance of liminality through involvement in solidarity grassroots football

This article provides an in-depth investigation of people seeking asylum’s development of senses of belonging in and through solidarity grassroots football in Italy. In the last decade, there has been increasing interest in sport and migration studies. Yet, researchers have predominantly focused on policy-oriented questions (i.e., how can sport facilitate integration?). Through an ethnographic approach, this article examines processes of negotiation that take place in the microscale of day-to-day life in the locality. Employing the analytical framework for the study of belonging advanced by Nira Yuval-Davis and critically integrated by Marco Antonsich, four themes are discussed: the agency of people seeking asylum in appropriating football to nurture a positive sense of self; the emergence of the material environment of sporting activities as a space of belonging; the negotiation of belonging within and beyond the team; and the local neighbourhood as possible trait d’union between sport-specific attachments and development of senses of belonging to the wider community. The article contends that involvement in solidarity grassroots football can provide people seeking asylum with opportunities to develop attachments that go beyond the momentary, and play a vital role in resisting the liminality imposed by nationalist-autochthonic politics of belonging.