An institute for critical education in the South Pacific

A ʻAtenisi picture


Apr. 2016 – Noted Anthropologist Describes Lure and Risk of Overseas Rugby Career

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This year's Futa Helu Memorial Lecture was delivered 11 April by Dr Niko Besnier, a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and an 'Atenisi university fellow. The talk, "Sports Mobilities", examined the lure and danger of an overseas rugby career for Pacific Island athletes.

Because of limited employment opportunities for young men in the Pacific, talented athletes often migrate overseas to play rugby professionally. After retirement, typically in their 30s, a few are able to segue into coaching. But many are left stranded in a foreign nation with no academic credentials. Sadly, Besnier reports, these early retirees are often left to join the ranks of the underpaid or unemployed, whilst no longer being able to relate to their Pacific homeland.

Besnier was jointly introduced by institute director Sisi'uno Helu and university dean Dr Michael Horowitz. Helu recalled that 'Atenisi founder Dr 'I. Futa Helu had befriended Besnier when the Frenchman was a 19-year-old schoolteacher here in Tonga. In 2009, she continued, 'Atenisi appointed the anthropologist university fellow in recognition of his ongoing contribution to the institute's development. "Your loyalty," she concluded, "has been a continuing inspiration to me and my family."

Horowitz pointed out that since the late '70s, Besnier had served on the faculties of Yale University, University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Illinois before joining the University of Amsterdam. "It's always a pleasure to introduce an old friend, but a particular joy to introduce one who has risen to the top of his profession."

Since 2012, Besnier has managed a 2.3 million Euro grant from the European Research Council to coordinate a team examining the integration of foreign athletes into European societies.