Lords of the Square Ring: Future Capital and Career Transition Issues for Elite Indigenous Australian Boxers
In Australia a serious and widely documented statistical gap exists between the socio-economic circumstances of the country’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Areas of divergence include life expectancy, health, housing, income, and educational opportunity and employment. This has made career attainment problematic for most Aboriginal people. Among male Indigenous people, professional sport is portrayed as one of the few realms in which they can prosper. This is particularly true in the major football codes – Australian Rules and rugby league – and a feature of elite-level boxing, where Indigenous fighters are also statistically over-represented. However, while sport has provided opportunities for a small number of talented Indigenous athletes, it has rarely been a pathway to lifelong prosperity. This paper contends that as a result of over-reliance on an abundant bank of physical capital, Indigenous Australian boxers are particularly vulnerable to potential occupational obsolescence should their bodily assets erode more quickly than envisaged. Drawing on an Indigenous concept, Dadirri, to inform a wider interpretive phenomenological approach, the paper examines retirement experiences of fourteen elite male Indigenous Australian boxers; the goal of this research is to understand their post-sport career decision making. In this respect, Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital and field are utilised to frame and interpret the capacity of Indigenous boxers to develop sustainable career pathways – which we describe as future capital – during their time as elite athletes. For this group of athletes, being an Indigenous person was found to be a significant factor in their decision-making to enter the sport, which may then leave them open to exploitation within the field. Many boxers find their engagement with education and vocational training remains restricted to occupations that complement an Indigenous sense of cultural capital. This involves, as with other ethnocultural groups, particular notions of kinship and family obligation that in turn shape individual aspirations and behaviours. Indigenous Australian boxers remain largely unaware or removed from the possibility of pursuing career pathways beyond those that draw upon or accentuate their physicality.
Indigenous, athletic identity, habitus, capital, field