The structural anchoring of integration measures in Swiss football clubs

  • Matthias Buser Institute of Sport Science, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • Siegfried Nagel Institute of Sport Science, University of Bern, Switzerland
Keywords: sport participation, sport behaviour, social determinants, structural factors, diversity management


Sports clubs are considered as offering integration for people with a migration background (PMB), for example, by building social contacts or a sense of belonging. Conversely, PMB are also important to sports clubs, as demographic changes means their inclusion as new members is increasingly seen as necessary. Nevertheless, PMB are clearly underrepresented in many sports, while high PMB participation in sports such as football can be a segregated participation form. Causes for this are often located at the level of the individual, where, for example, cultural differences are highlighted. However, studies have also analysed how clubs can succeed in initiating opening processes and implementing integrative programmes (e.g. Borggrefe & Cachay, 2021). It is notable that primarily individual, committed club actors deal with integration in clubs, and that there can also be scepticism and resistance from other members. Integration is rarely anchored in structures of the clubs (e.g. specific goals towards integration). This paper considers the ways integration measures in Swiss football clubs are embedded in club structures. For this purpose, we draw on case studies using expert interviews in 12 Swiss football clubs that implement integrative measures and can therefore be expected to have a certain structural anchoring.

Initial analyses indicate that in many clubs such efforts are not structurally anchored. This is particularly relevant to clubs that became active in response to the wave of refugees from 2015 onwards. The commitment of these clubs is often based on the sense of social responsibility of committed club officials who create opportunities for refugees who want to play football with the club. In some clubs, these individuals become informal contact persons for PMB. They coordinate integration and counter scepticism in the club. However, this additional task is not anchored structurally, and disappears when the wave of refugees recedes. Other clubs fulfil relevant criteria to participate in a Swiss Football Association programme to receive free training material. In one club, program participation helps naming and communicating the integrative commitment within the club. In a small number of clubs, a stronger structural anchoring is evident. For example, when faced with significant challenges in everyday sports, such as excessive conflicts or demands on coaches, a newly employed social worker or an especially created integration committee can be found. In one club, a cultural anchoring can be observed with various club actors demonstrating diverse integration efforts. Another club is implementing a cantonal label for financial reasons, and to this purpose, regularly addresses integration issues at board meetings.

This paper analyses the structural anchoring of inclusive efforts in football clubs. Existing research shows that this is often dealt with by individual actors and is not structurally anchored. Anchoring is mainly seen when challenges of inclusion require such response. Good practice studies from sports that are less popular with PMB can show the extent to which structural adaptations can be traced back to planned opening processes.


Borggrefe, C., & Cachay, K. (2021). Interkulturelle Öffnung von Sportvereinen – Theoretische Überlegungen und empirische Ergebnisse [Intercultural opening of sports clubs - Theoretical considerations and empirical results]. Sport und Gesellschaft, 18(2), 157–186.

How to Cite
Buser, M., & Nagel, S. (2023). The structural anchoring of integration measures in Swiss football clubs. Current Issues in Sport Science (CISS), 8(2), 049.