by Shummell Uddin
Football, the game which is loved by many, has developed through the decades, since establishing itself, as the greatest sport in the world. English football has always been a popular sport, however, it has failed to overcome discrimination and racial barriers.
Thousands regularly play the game but British-born men of Asian ethnicity rarely make it to the professional ranks. When looking into depth about this matter, it has come to light that there are very few Asian football players and the question has often been imposed, as to why there are very few professional Asian football players. Furthermore, there does not appear to be a British Asian employed by the ‘front-line management’ and why this has not yet happened.
Since, the notorious report in 1996 “Asian’s cannot play football” by Jas Bains, the English Football Association (FA) stated that they would restructure their programme and promote equal opportunities for the ethnic minorities, which will enable them to demonstrate their initiative.
However, since the report, there have only been four professional British Asian footballers. Most prominently Zesh Rehman, who played in all four English tiers for teams such as Fulham and Bradford City. Rehman has actively been involved in promoting awareness to equal opportunities, anti-racism, diversity and ethnicity in football. Rehman is currently the ambassador for ‘Kick It Out’ and ‘Show Racism the Red Card’. He is also the founder of The Zesh Rehman Foundation (ZRF).
The main question being imposed is; what appears to be the problem in such a profession as football?
There is clear evidence that this may be partially due to British Asian players facing discrimination during games and this has led to the lack of British Asians having involvement in the sport. Nonetheless, the popularity of the sport has risen dramatically among the Asian community, overtaking cricket as their most popular sport.
It appears that there has always been a stereotypical view and pattern of racial exclusion amongst the ethnic groups. There seems to be a stigma attached about how British Asians only play for and against other British Asians.
Some would state that there appears to be cultural obstacles and that youngsters and their parents do not feel comfortable with the drinking culture in games and the disregard for academic achievement. Asian parents, view football as an extracurricular activity and therefore, would not make great comparisons to other professions such as law, medicine or teaching.
The issue of the media and current affairs appear to also have a negative impact on British Muslim Asian and all other groups. This has further created reluctance amongst British Asians players and due to this, there appears to be difficulties for them to integrate with players from other origins.
The talent that some of the British Asian footballers possess are certainly unquestionable. Could this possibly indicate that the Asian football communities are doing something wrong? Perhaps these Asian football organizations are not aware of the accurate access to such networks or they do not have opportunities to go out and network with other organizations. There does not appear to be direct contact between the club’s personnel’s and the football hierarchy. Therefore, this has caused a major barricade and have restricted opportunities for cohesion and diversity. This clearly needs to be addressed urgently by all organizations.
Consequently, as a result, this reflects that English football appears to promote the interest and career progressions of the British White group and does not allow other ethnic groups to progress or have access to such professional achievements as the British White Groups.
There are many Asian football clubs in the UK working closely to resolve and achieve solutions to increase Asian participation in football. One of those being, Jubhodhol FC. This Bradford based club was first formed in 1983 and has been running till present. It has helped promote good examples through the generations and to all the young people who attend this club. There have been substantial developments which has allowed the club to promote and invite many different age groups and ethnicities participating in the club. The adult football team currently participates in national tournaments every year and this allows them to play against other teams. The Academy has around 60-80 young people between the ages of 5-16 to participate in football. 90% of those attending are from a Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicity group, However, how many of these young people will go onto play professional football? None.
Nanu Football Academy (NFA) is a similar organization who are situated in Leeds and run similar projects, however, the FA does not seem to acknowledge their hard work or existence. Could this possibly be because the Football Association are not actively getting involved with the Asian communities to find undiscovered talent? Perhaps these clubs may not have direct contact with the FA or Kevin Coleman.
Recently, Shapla FC, a football organization in Bradford have managed to receive recognition from the FA. The club was first launched by ‘Kick It Out’ earlier this year in liaison with West Riding Footballer’s Supporters Federation (FA), Fans For Diversity, Bangla Bantams and Bradford City in their bid to increase Asian participation in football. Shapla FC have become official partners with the FA, a Community Development Centre (CDC) and Centre Of Excellence for football, the very in Yorkshire.
Co-Founder, Humayun Islam said,
“It is about building confidence. It is about building self-esteem for all the kids and potentially supporting the local team through football and their supporters. This would certainly help promote more Asian participation in football and hopefully allow more Asian professionals playing from their communities.”
Football clubs, such as, Shapla FC should be promoted and given publicity to enable opportunities for British Asians to excel and become professional football players and to promote racial equalities and diversity. Clubs like JuboDhol and the NFA are providing platforms for English football to develop and allow ethnic groups to also participate. Perhaps, it is it is time that the Football Association to look further into such great developments and opportunities.