Ethnic diversity and extremist attitudes in soccer teams: A multi-level investigation

It has been argued that sports contexts may be suitable venues for reducing intercultural hostility, including its more extreme forms, yet empirical evidence remains scarce. 

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The present study investigated the main and interactive influence of two sets of factors on support for violent extremism: (a) ethnic diversity of teams, that is, the heterogeneity of the team members’ ethnic origins, and (b) team members’ intercultural perceptions, including perceived social capital, contact experiences and diversity ideologies within the team. Individual-level data from 257 players nested within 36 German soccer teams were combined with assessments of the ethnic diversity of each team based on a genealogical database. Multi-level analyses were conducted. Some evidence suggested that higher ethnic diversity within a team and frequent inter-ethnic contact between its players were associated with more extremism. However, cross-level moderation analyses showed that ethnic diversity was associated with less support for violent extremist groups when inter-ethnic contact quality was high. Perceptions of colorblind team ideologies that focus on minimizing/ignoring differences between groups were associated with lower threat perceptions and extremism. While social capital generally played little of a role, one social capital indicator, norms of behavior, was unexpectedly associated with higher threat perceptions. Overall, the present findings suggest that increasing ethnic diversity in sports teams may in itself not reduce extremist attitudes and sometimes may even backfire. Rather, how intercultural relations are managed within these contexts seems decisive. Prioritizing venues for positive contact experiences between soccer players of different backgrounds seems essential.

International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 2021,


Published Feb. 1, 2021 6:00 AM