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Gains Versus Drains

Football in International Relations
Paul Darby

Over the last two decades, there has been a debate of increasingly acrimo- nious proportions on the consequences of what has come to be labeled as an"exodus" of Africa's finest football talent to Europe. This debate, played out in the game's corridors of power, in media circles, amongst academics, between politi- cians, and in both European and African courts, has often mirrored polemicizing around highly skilled African migration more generally. The emigration of the highly skilled from the Global South and its impact on development in source countries has, for many decades, vexed politicians, economists, policy makers, and academics alike. In the second half of the twentieth century, heavyweight in- tellectual paradigms rooted in neoclassical and neo-Marxist perspectives vied for primacy in the migration research and policy communities. Clearly demarcated battle lines were drawn and polemical debates ensued. Migration was painted as a zero-sum game involving either gains or drains, winners or losers, a cause for optimism or pessimism. Optimists argued that capital could be captured and gains accrued by donor nations through remittances, the (assumed) return of migrants and associated brain circulation, rising wages, and transnationally minded diasporas, all of which could function as potential engines and agents of development. Pessimists depicted skilled migration as an extractive process characterized by the hemorrhaging of valuable resources abroad, underdevelop- ment, a deepening of poverty and global inequality, and damaging sociocultural impacts in sending societies.1