British Asians in football: What happened to Football Association strategy?

By Simon YaffeFootball writer
Neil Taylor, Michael Chopra, Hamza Choudhury and Zesh Rehman
Only four British footballers of South Asian descent have played in the Premier League

It is six years since the Football Association outlined its intention to come up with a plan to help British Asians make an impact on English football.

The FA's strategy - Bringing Opportunities to Communities - was subsequently published in 2015 and updated earlier this year.external-link Its aim was to increase the number of Asians at grassroots level in both a playing and coaching capacity in the hope and belief that they filter up the pyramid on a more regular basis.

In the highest echelons of the game, that has not yet happened.

By the end of the 2018-19 season, only four British footballers of South Asian descent (that includes Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi) have played in the Premier League - Neil Taylor, Michael Chopra, Hamza Choudhury and Zesh Rehman.

Danny Batth looked like he would join them, but left Wolverhampton Wanderers for Stoke City in January without playing a top-flight game.

According to the Professional Footballers' Association, there are just 12 players of South Asian heritage across the Premier League and the English Football League.

Why the lack of representation?

Zesh Rehman
Zesh Rehman made his first Premier League appearance for Fulham in 2004

Taff Rahman is a Bangladesh-born football coach, who holds a Uefa A Licence, is an FA tutor, and has coached at Tottenham Hotspur's academy and with England's youth teams. He also recently helped Guyana to qualify for the Gold Cup for the first time in his role as assistant coach.

"There aren't many British South Asian (BSA) coaches in the professional game, especially those with long-term industry knowledge, so BSA youngsters have not really had any prominent figures to look up to," he says.

"There is nobody at the moment who can be that beacon of light.

"There are a few BSA youngsters in the academy system and we need them to come through into those clubs' first teams, and make a name for themselves in the Premier League and in the EFL.

"But the Premier League has become so big and is home to most of the top players, so it is difficult enough to make it in the first place."

That assessment is borne out by the stats.

There were eight BSA players with professional contracts in English football when BBC Sport first investigated the issue in October 2013.

Today, according to the Professional Footballers' Association, there are 12, as well as five scholars who have come through clubs' academies as of last season.

"If you haven't got South Asian kids in the system, then you are reducing their chances of playing at the top level," Rahman says.

"It is about increasing participation across the whole system and looking for this pathway to flourish."

Is the FA doing enough about it?

Hamza Choudhury
Hamza Choudhury has featured regularly for Leicester this season

Around 7% of the British population is of South Asian descent - about 3.5 million people.

Should the FA be doing more to encourage the younger elements of that group to try to forge a career in professional football?

An FA spokesman told BBC Sport that it is planning to appoint an "Asian champion" to the governing body's board and has produced a film which features BSA role models in referee Lisa Rashid, England Women's deaf futsal player Lucindha Lawson, Charlton Women's manager Riteesh Mishra and Swansea City forward Yan Dhanda.

Before the 2019-20 season, the FA appointed a "board champion" in a bid to raise awareness of Asian inclusion at the top of the organisation.

It is also creating and facilitating a strategic Asian inclusion guidance group and, together with the PFA, mentors Asian players currently in the system, while also creating a protocol where all new FA and county FA roles are advertised directly to Asian communities.

The FA spokesman said: "Late last year, we delivered eight community forums across the country's eight most diverse counties, engaging with more than 500 people from Asian communities.

"The feedback from those communities and wider partners has informed much of our work going forward."

Over the next few seasons, the FA is also working towards more Asian inclusion in English football.

There are plans to support Asian fan groups with key partners such as the Football Supporters' Federation. This is likely to include Asian fan events with the FSF and the England Supporters' Travel Club.

"Stakeholders have been doing the work, but a lot more could be done to support the South Asian community when it comes to trying to involve them in professional football," Rahman explains.

"People talk about how the Afro-Caribbean community, for example, is more assimilated into British life, but the South Asian community is becoming integrated like never before."

Could Islamophobia be a factor in the lack of South Asian professionals at British football's highest level? Rahman is cautious in his response.

"There is discrimination against Muslim people, but that is just the way the world is," he says.

"You look at foreign Muslim players in the Premier League like Mohamed Salah, N'Golo Kante and Sadio Mane, and they have highlighted the way of life from a Muslim perspective.

"They are great models and younger people of all backgrounds see that."

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