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Who are you fighting for? Amir Khan, multiculturalism and community cohesion. Daniel Burdsey University of Brighton. Boxing, Bolton…and beyond. Amir Khan…who?! Athens 2004: a tale of the unexpected From zero to hero – post-Olympic profile

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Who are you fighting for? Amir Khan, multiculturalism and community cohesion

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Who are you fighting for? Amir Khan, multiculturalism and community cohesion

Daniel Burdsey

University of Brighton

Boxing, Bolton…and beyond

  • Amir Khan…who?!

  • Athens 2004: a tale of the unexpected

  • From zero to hero – post-Olympic profile

  • ‘It’s amazing what has happened in Bolton. I think that the youths of Bolton, especially the Indian and Pakistani boys, they seem to have a hero type of person, you know, like they can sort of relate to Amir Khan’ – Zabir Khan, Secretary of the Medina mosque, Bolton

  • A subversion of (post-)colonial corporeal stereotypes?

  • Representations reflect dominant discourses around multiculturalism, citizenship and community cohesion

Context for the study

  • ‘Sport represents a particularly useful site for exploring the changing nature of “patterns of prejudice” in societies around the world. It is an arena in which the complex interplay between ethnicity, “race”, nation, culture and identity in different social environments is most publicly articulated’ (Ansari 2004: 209)

  • The ‘multicultural question’ (Hall 2001)

  • New Labour and ‘multiculturalist nationalism’ (Fortier 2005)

  • 9/11 to 7/7: Islamophobia and media portrayals of British Muslims

Thinking outside the box(ing)

  • Citizenship / community cohesion discourses and cultural racism: 1) normative model of national identity; 2) pathological representations of young British Muslim men

  • Subversion of “Englishness”/”Britishness” = “whiteness”

  • The “Tebbit test” to “Amir’s boxing test”

  • Khan, ‘Khan’s Army’, hybridity and diaspora

  • Erroneous extrapolation to denial of racism

  • Membership of ‘national club’ (Carrington 2000) is extremely is conditional (see also Gilroy 1993, Mercer 1994 on Bruno)

Identity and representation

  • ‘All of a sudden people could see somebody who really was from a different religion and a different area of the country, who really lived like the rest of us and spoke like the rest of us, and conducted himself in an exemplary way’ – Paul King, boxing development manager, Liverpool City Council

  • ‘When you look at him on the television, you see Pakistan, but when he opens his mouth you hear Bolton and that’s good enough for us. We have claimed him. He’s definitely ours’ – OAP, Bolton

Representations of Khan

  • ‘There is a refreshing joy about the Bolton Pakistani proud to wear the British vest’ – Sue Mossop, Daily Telegraph

  • ‘He is rightly proud to be Asian, but he’s also so clearly British in his sense of identity and that can do nothing but good’ – John Lawson, Headmaster, Smithills school, Bolton

Citizenship, integration, community cohesion

  • ‘A meaningful concept of “citizenship” needs establishing – and championing – which recognises…the contribution of all cultures to this Nation’s development throughout its history, but establishes a clear primary loyalty to this Nation’ (Home Office 2001: para. 5.1.15)

  • Alterity is acceptable because it can be marginalised by his “Britishness”

  • Khan and David Blunkett’s ‘norms of acceptability’ (Ann Cryer)

  • Re- and de-racialisation (Fortier 2005)

British Muslim identities and masculinities

  • Dominant images of young British Muslim men

  • Khan as a ‘role model’ – Bobby Friction, Iqbal Sacranie

  • The ‘acceptable face’ of British Islam

  • New Labour’s ‘diversity management’ (Gilroy 2005) / Denis MacShane

  • Blair-Bush doctrine on ‘war against terror’

  • Boxing, (white) father figures and escaping the ghetto (Wacquant 1992)

  • “Hyperactivity” and “discipline of the gym”


  • ‘The assumption is that if the visual referent changes, “we” change, consequently satisfying the disenfranchised communities who will feel greater pride in being part of the national community by virtue of seeing “fellow members” of “their” communities within the representational field’ (Fortier 2005: 573)

  • French football

  • Racial abuse of Khan: Glasgow, Liverpool

  • Hypocrisy: London 2012 and attacks on municipal multiculturalism

  • What would happen if Khan exercised some oppositional agency?


  • ‘Sociologically we need to avoid the twin dangers of the sentimental conservatives, who believe that the mere fact of white fans singing the names of black athletes demonstrates the end of racism, as much as we do against those pessimistic commentators who dismiss any shifts within the realm of popular culture as merely ideological’ (Carrington 2004: 3)

  • Multiculturalist nationalism?

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